English as an Opener

Monday, April 23 is #EnglishLanguageDay and we're thinking about all the ways that English helps bridge the opportunity gap. As a world language, English opens up educational and vocational avenues for people who may otherwise be faced with a lack of opportunity. To native speakers of English, this might seem simplistic, so let us share the story of what learning English can do: 

Boss (name changed), first joined English Corner (a drop-in English group Imagine Thailand facilitates at Entrance Coffeehouse and Studio) after attending an English Camp run by the Chula Student Club with help from friends from the U.S.A. in July, 2015.  When the camp finished, Boss wanted to continue practicing conversational English, so he quickly joined our twice weekly English Corner sessions and has been one of the most engaged members for the last 2-and-a-half years.

When he first joined, Boss was nervous to speak English. He could understand what people were saying, but was often reluctant to speak up, fearing he would stumble over his words or would not give the “correct” answer. However he was keen to learn and enjoyed meeting new people, so as well as English Corner, he also came to games nights, bowling trips, and every other activity that we planned.  He also loved to meet teams and interns, although his usual welcoming line, along with his beaming smile, was “Hi, my name's Boss, it's nice to meet you. Sorry my English is not very good”.

This self-deprecating line is commonly used by ESL speakers when they first meet native speakers, as they compare their language abilities almost apologetically. Yet, this is a bit like meeting Roger Federer, and apologizing for not being very good at playing tennis! The purpose of any language is communication, and if you can make another person understand what you are trying to say, to build a relationship, even if you can only speak a few words, then you have succeeded.

In an effort to increase his learning, and also to continue to build relationships with volunteers from English Corner, last year Boss joined another of our language courses. While attending, he got to meet more people and to practice listening to different accents. This, and other regular exposure opportunities with native speakers, really catapulted Boss' learning, and brought on a rapid growth in language ability and assurance too.

Over the years it has been encouraging to see Boss grow in confidence, and his joy of learning and using language correctly has led him to apply to study a Masters program in Engineering at a university in America. He is still in the process of taking a number of English tests to guarantee his place, but so far the results look promising.

As a sign of how much he has grown in his abilities and confidence, Boss has this week, worked alongside a team from Canada as they have led an English Camp at a local school in Bangkok. This is the second English Camp he has helped with, something that when we first met in 2015, he would never have believed himself confident or competent enough to do. It is exciting to see him passing on his love for English to children, and encouraging them to try, and not give up.

Learning a language is not easy, but in Asia particularly, English is a very valuable skill to possess and opens up many doors of opportunity. Teaching English with Imagine, whether that be in Takua Pa with children and the community at the Lighthouse Learning Centre, or in Bangkok or Hat Yai with university students, is an unforgettable experience. It is an easy way to serve, but the impact of it could change a nation.