Burmese community paper in a Bangkok restaurant

Burmese newspaper in a Bangkok restaurant

[tab:English] “When Thai people ask me where I’m from, I tell them, “Oh I’m from the Philippines or Singapore. Then, I don’t get that look!” A young woman from Myanmar recently told me her experience of living in Bangkok as an international student of Business Administration. Having little Thai proficiency, Thiri (all names are pseudonyms) carries out her day-to-day interactions in English in Bangkok. Surprised by the mismatch between her Asian look and her fluency in English, Thai shopkeepers often ask the country of her origin. While she is now used to being asked ‘where are you from?’, their reaction to her truthful response continues to distress her:

They say, ‘Aaaah, Pamma (Thai word for ‘Burmese’)…. You don’t look Myanmar!’ Obviously, they think all Burmese are poor migrants. I stopped telling them I’m from Burma. They react nicely if I say I’m from Singapore.

Thiri’s experience is part of the narrative of the intensifying internationalisation of higher education in Thailand. Since the 1990s, Thailand has been driven to internationalise its higher education as part of its economic expansion effort in order to generate income (Lavankura, 2013). As a result, the number of international programs offered by Thai universities steadily increased from 14 programs in 1984, to 520 in 2003, and to 981 in 2010.

English as the medium of instruction is the key characteristic of these international programs (see Piller and Cho, 2013). Pad Lavankura (2013, p. 670) from Ramkhamhaeng University explains that “the extra demand for international programs is based on a growing need for graduates competent in the English language, in addition to being competent in their own discipline”. Similar to other Southeast and East Asian countries, Thailand enthusiastically embraces the discourse of English as capital to elevate its standing in the global economic and academic system. Against the background of Thailand’s poor record in English language proficiency (ranked 53 out of 54 countries; English First, 2012), and in thrall to the glamorous global status of the language, English MoI international programs have become an attractive option among middle- and upper-class Thais desiring to improve their social status and access to better employment.

While the majority of students enrolled in the international programs are Thai nationals, the number of international students has seen a steady increase. Lavankura (2013, p. 666) observes that ‘the ambition to “catch up with the West” continues, but the idea has been expanded to include other geographical parts of the world, especially the ASEAN countries”. According to the Office of the Higher Education Commission (2013), the total of international students enrolled in higher education in 2010-2011 was 20,309, and the highest number of international students came from China (8,444), followed by Myanmar (1,481), Laos (1, 344) and Vietnam (1,290).

Foreign Students in Thai Higher Education Institutions 2011

Indeed, many of my students are international students, mainly from other parts of Asia such as China, Myanmar, South Korea and Taiwan. Many of them opted out of going to an expensive English-speaking country and chose Thailand instead as a study overseas destination for affordable tuition fees, geographical proximity to their home country, friendliness of Thai people and wonderful local food.

Two students in my course told me eagerly that they have much more opportunity to use English here than they had in their home countries of China and South Korea. As a result, their confidence in their English has increased since they arrived in Bangkok. Few of them have learnt much Thai, but that has not caused much discomfort or inconvenience, and in fact, they say they are often admired by local Thais for their fluency in English, and their national identity as Chinese and South Korean has a strong currency in Thailand.

This positive reception by locals and their instant admiration for English-speaking Asians is rare in the narratives of the Burmese international students I’ve met to date. In fact, the opposite is true as demonstrated by Thiri’s experience. Another story comes from Tom, a young Burmese MBA student. Tom and his Thai-speaking Burmese friend were shopping in a watch shop one day. Tom asked several questions in English to a smiling Thai shopkeeper, who eventually asked him where he was from:

I said I was from Myanmar, and he said ‘Oh… Pamma…’ and quickly turned to other shopkeepers and start talking amongst themselves. My friend can understand Thai and said, ‘they are saying you won’t be buying anything because you are poor. They are surprised that a man from a poor country can speak English.’ I was so sad.

It is not only the public space where the stigmatisation of Burma impacts their everyday lives as international students. Speaking to several Burmese students enrolled in international programs at universities across Bangkok, I have learned that they have experiences of being excluded from classroom activities, of being called names, and of being ridiculed for their perceived naivety and accent in English on campus. As a result, there is a tendency to study and socialise among themselves. This obviously reduces access to interactional opportunities in English as a lingua franca, and they are well aware that such socialisation is counterproductive. Commonly, however, many of them have been able to form close friendship with their fellow international students, who share their goals of gaining more proficiency in English and more international experience.

Global 30 Japan Education Fair in Bangkok

‘With the introduction of the “Global 30” Project, the best universities in Japan are now offering degree programs in English’

My observations in this post are based on anecdotes that I have been collecting informally since I arrived in Thailand in 2011. The problem I see is that their complex experience of study overseas in English as a lingua franca in a (so-called) non-English speaking Asian country remains largely invisible in the fields of Applied Linguistics, Intercultural Communication and related areas, as the research focus to date has been concentrated on fee-paying Asian students studying in English-speaking Western countries.

As demonstrated by Ingrid Piller and Jinhyun Cho (2013) in the case of internationalisation of higher education in South Korea, and as further exemplified by Japan’s ambition to internationalise its higher education and by Thailand’s declaration of their plan to become a regional education hub, universities in Asia are en route to attracting Asian international students to their English MoI international programs.

The commodification of internationalisation of higher education within English-crazy Asia is a relatively new ball game in the name of globalisation. How do we make sense of this and its impact? One possible way is to start documenting challenges and issues faced by this emerging student population, like those experienced by the Burmese students discussed in this post. Such research efforts must look closely into the historical tensions among nations and ethnic groups and their impact on everyday negotiations of identity, access to interactional opportunities and a sense of belonging on and off campus.

ResearchBlogging.orgPiller, I. & J. Cho (2013). Neoliberalism as language policy. Language in Society , 42 (1), 23-44 DOI: 10.1017/S0047404512000887

Lavankura, P. (2013). Internationalizing Higher Education in Thailand: Government and University Responses. Journal of Studies in International Education, 17 (5), 663-676 DOI: 10.1177/1028315313478193


ライター:高橋君江(Kimie Takahashi) | 翻訳: 貝和慧美 (Emi Kaiwa)




ティリさんの経験の背景には、タイ王国(以下、タイ)で過熱する高等教育の国際化への取り組みがある。1990年代以降、タイは、収入を増やす為の景気拡大の一環として高等教育国際化を推進してきた(Lavankura, 2013)。その結果、タイの大学におけるインターナショナルプログラムは増加し、1984年には14だったプログラム数が、2003年に520へ、そして2010年には981にも上った。

これらのインターナショナルプログラムの重要な特徴は指導言語が英語であることだ。(Piller and Cho, 2013参照)。ラムカムヘン大学のパッド・ラバンクラ(Lavankura, 2013、p.670)は、「大学の卒業生に専門分野における能力だけでなく、高い英語力が求められている現状が、インターナショナルプログラムへの需要増加の根底にある。」と述べている。他のアジア諸国と同様に、タイは経済と学問をグローバルレベルに高めていくための資本として英語を取り入れている。英語能力が低いとされているタイ人(54か国中53位;English First, 2012)にとって、グローバルステイタスである英語が出来る事への憧れは強まる一方だ。よって、英語で学べるインターナショナルプログラムは、高い社会的地位やより良い仕事に就きたいと考えている中流、上流階級のタイ人の間で魅力的な選択肢として注目を集め始めている。

inter.mua.go.th-main2-files-file-foreign student-Foreign_Students_2011.pdf


インターナショナルプログラムに入学している生徒の大多数がタイ人である一方、留学生の数も増え続けている。ラムカムヘン大学のパッド・ラバンクラ (2013, p. 666) は、「『西洋に追いつけ』という強い風潮はこれからも続くが、この考え方は、他の地域、特にASEAN諸国へと拡大している」との見解を示している。高等教育事務局(2013)によると、2010年~2011年の間にタイの大学へ入学した留学生数の合計は20,309名で、留学者数の多い国は順に、中国(8,444名)、ミャンマー(1,481名)、ラオス(1,344名)、ベトナム(1,290名)となっている。






Global 30 Japan Education Fair in Bangkok



アジアの大学は今、英語インターナショナルプログラムによるアジア人留学生獲得に本腰を入れつつある。イングリッド・ピラー及びジンヒュン・チョウ (2013)が検証した韓国における高等教育の国際化、日本の高等教育国際化への取り組み、さらにアジアの地域教育のハブ国を目指すタイの計画がその良い例である。


Piller, I. & J. Cho (2013). Neoliberalism as language policy. Language in Society , 42 (1), 23-44.
Lavankura, P. (2013). Internationalizing Higher Education in Thailand: Government and University Responses. Journal of Studies in International Education, 17 (5), 663-676.


Author Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江

高橋 君江 is Visiting Associate Professor at International Christian University, Tokyo. Before joining ICU in 2014, she was Lecturer at the Graduate School of English at Assumption University of Thailand (2011 - 2014) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University, Australia (2007 and 2011). Kimie is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Linguistics, and continues to co-supervise several PhD students with Ingrid Piller at Macquarie University.

More posts by Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江
  • Ken

    Thank you for writing this article.

  • Floura

    Actually, as I studied in Thailand, I could compare the high education method used in the class between Thailand and China, my mother told me that it is mostly student-centered in the university that she teaches, students rarely participate in the class, however, I found English is useful when I have to use it in the class that I am assigned to do group discussions, projects and presentations. Moreover, in terms of discrimination, some of my Burmese friends said they thought they were discriminated and it was hard for them to find a job in Thailand. Discrimination, as far as I am concerned, is happened not only among different countries, even in one nation, some people from big cities such as Shang Hai, Beijing, look down folks from small cities. In 2009, I went to Shanghai to shopping with my father, and I speaked my dialect which was understandable, however, the shop asisstant ignored me and my father, I was so angry at that time. Thus, economic and social status sometimes are the factors influence people’s judgements.

  • Thanks, Ken and Floura, for your comments. Fyi, there is an interesting PhD study looking at experiences of Chinese students enrolled in English MoI international programs in Bangkok underway, conducted by Zhiguang Huang at the Graduate School of English, Assumption University.

  • Hubert

    Thanks for this post, Kimie – an interesting perspective given your position in Thailand as a(n ‘international’?) scholar. Could you please cite (some of) the research to date in ALx that has focused on the complex experiences of “fee-paying Asian students studying in English speaking countries” – this part of that paragraph doesn’t sound like it is based on “anecdotes”. Also: hasn’t the research focus in ALx that you are referring to been done primarily with tertiary aged-students? Also: I’m not clear on whether you’re proposing to study the complex experiences of fee-paying ‘Asian’ students who have the means to “opt out of going to an expensive English-speaking country”, or whether you’re proposing that there’s a need to study how ideologies of nationality/race/language are at work in different ways when tertiary (English) education internationalizes in non-English speaking countries. Thanks in advance!