Learning languages of region is critical for Thais

Experts warn if Thais don’t prepare their communication skills now, they’ll struggle when the AEC takes off

Learn the languages of our neighbouring countries today or be losers tomorrow. This is not an overstatement given that the Asean Economic Community (AEC) is going to create one economic community for citizens from 10 countries.

Although some Thais living along the borders can use their neighbours’ languages, this is not enough to brace for human and business flows in the region, which will bring changes to Thailand and build strong relationships with people from other Asean nations.

Educators whose task is to help students and other Thai people enhance their foreign language skills urged Thais to start learning their neighbours’ languages along with improving their English now, otherwise they would probably find themselves late.

“If we don’t learn how to communicate with people from our neighbouring countries in English and in their local languages, we will lose many opportunities when more investments flow into the region, for instance an opportunity to be employed in a good position in a company in Asean,” said Sudakarn Patamadilok, assistant to the president for international affairs and director of Naresuan University (NU) Language Centre. The centre offers students, the university’s staff, individuals and other agencies short courses in Lao, Khmer, Burmese, Bahasa Indonesian and Tagalog.

“When compared to Myanmar workers in the engineering and architecture fields, who can speak Burmese, Thai and English, Thai workers can speak only Thai, hence there are more possibilities for the Myanmar ones to be employed,” she explained.

She said they did not consider learning neighbours’ languages as an urgent matter until they were going to be affected. “They don’t prefer preparation, but if they wait until the AEC comes into effect and they are affected by changes, it will be too late for them to learn the neighbours’ languages because they will be unable to learn the languages overnight while people in our neighbouring countries can speak Thai already. It takes time and needs continuous practice.”

Assoc Prof Nuntaga Thawut, vice president for foreign affairs at Chandrakasem Rajabhat University, said Thais can work and stay comfortably in Thailand now, hence they do not feel it necessary to learn other Asean languages for the future.

“Although, many people near the border of Cambodia can speak Khmer, we’ve found that lots of young people don’t speak this language as they don’t see its importance, whereas young people in the countries sharing the borders with Thailand, like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam can communicate in Thai. They watch Thai TV channels,” said Phaichayon Janthaket, director of Prasatwittayakarn School in Surin that is near the border with Cambodia.

“This is a crisis as more people are expected to cross the border for jobs and businesses, but they won’t understand each other enough, and this can lead to problems,” he said.

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