The English spoken in Thailand is some of the worst in SE Asia. I’m not being a snobby tourist who thinks locals should learn my language. Far from it. I’m happy when anyone speaks a language I know! But the Thai government is concerned that when the ASEAN community is realized in 2015, Asians with great English skills will flood Thailand usurping tourism jobs (6% of Thailand’s GDP) and leaving locals in the lurch (4 million currently employed in the industry).
One might ask why the English is so bad in a country that thrives on tourism — a past-time whose auditory currency is the ubiquitous English language. I didn’t, but an expat’s blog had an answer anyway. His perspective: he spent a year learning the Thai language and then several more years teaching English to Thai students. According to him “sanuk” is an important component of Thai culture. The word basically translates to “fun.”
“The whole idea of living a lifestyle where everything is fun is great in principle, but it doesn’t always work. One example is that there are certain things in life that are quite frankly a hard slog and there are times when you simply have to do the hard yards. In certain situations, the locals can get fed up easily and not want to do the hard yards. A classic example is in the study of English where certain parts of it, particularly the grammar parts, can be difficult and require extra work. Thais can get very bored when it comes to things like this and complain that it is not sanuk.”
So, I guess learning English is not “sanuk” and therefore many Thais can’t be bothered. Just the other day Thai eagerness not to practice English was on full display when I walked into a government office to ask directions. All the clerks got this deer-in-the-headlights look, and each wildly tried to direct me to someone else by pointing. We all had a good laugh. The upside to all this English/hard-work phobia is that it makes for some pretty hilarious quotes and signage. I’ll translate where necessary:
“highly fire danger”
“Have save and pleasant stay.”
“Never leave cigarettes unwatched by smoking.”
“Banana, finish.” (We are out of bananas.)
“Single room cannot.” (We don’t have any single rooms available.)
“Please present you passport when change money.”
- “Your Messages has been sent to administrator complete. Please wait for check email later.” – (This is what I received after purchasing a Cabaret ticket online.)
- “Up to the stairs and go down again.” (explaining how to use an alley shortcut involving stairs to get yourself over the dead-end wall)
- Kindly take note to process the payment before your show date at least 1 day, otherwise the system have to canceled this booking automatically. (Also from the Cabaret peeps.)
I regret not being more diligent about recording these entertaining quips. Perhaps you can come to Thailand and see for yourself! Or you can just go here for more great laughs. ♣
Photo credit links: sanuk ladies, doll dangle sign, toilet feet sign.