The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in Thailand | Free Book | Part 2

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Teachers Dress Code

If you’re coming to escape the dreaded, uptight dress code of your home country you’ll be disappointed to learn it’s the same here in Thailand…

What are teachers expected to wear while teaching? You might be wondering this. is the dress code for teachers?

Thais place high value on presentation. Public presentation is important, even more so at the higher echelons of society. Teachers enjoy a high status and you’ll need to dress the part.

But, what is the part? Jeans are out. Dark pants are in. I wore light-colored khakis and even light grey pants during my first teaching assignment. I was reminded about 35 times by other teachers that dark pants would be nice. Nobody ever said to me, “My friend, teachers don’t wear light-colored pants here in Thailand – it’s impolite.”

Who would have guessed? Not me. I finally got the message after dozens of hints and I bought some dark blue and black pants like every other male teacher on campus.

Iron your shirts or find someone that can do it for you. Choose dark color shoes, black is best. Buy the type without laces, the slip-on kind that you’ll see all male teachers wear.

You’ll need long-sleeved dress shirts and a tie. Shirts can be light-colored, and the Thai – not funny or crazy. Teachers are respected for their wisdom, they are best to act and dress traditionally.

For women, the dress-code allows for a little more variety. Traditional, respectful, and clothes that don’t reveal too much cleavage or shoulders are key.

Rock star or skinhead haircuts are frowned upon. Hair for males should be short and well placed. For women, pinned or ponytails work fine.

Facial hair

Not good. A closely manicured mustache or beard might pass muster, but smooth face is the way to go. The exception is if you have a mole growing out of your face – it’s perfectly acceptable to have that small bit of couple inch-long facial hair growing out of it. I’ve seen a number of Thai teachers sporting this ‘style’. Apparently, it’s for good luck. Try it if you dare…

Tattoos

Not visible when teaching is best. Required in most government English programs.

Smoking

Frowned upon. Few Thai teachers smoke on school grounds, but the foreigners smoke away – presumably unable to control it? Foreign teachers that smoke loses some respect, but realistically the entire country seems to be going through a smoking bandwagon and it’s sweeping the country.

Olfactory Considerations

If your underarms smell – get deodorant or perfume, or powder or something to cover it up. Thais are exceptionally clean and abhor smells that aren’t pretty.

If you smoke – suck breath mints all day and brush your teeth. It won’t help, but when someone confronts you at least you can say you’re attempting to do something about it.

If you just ate som tam or durian – the kids will know, and so will all the students in your classes. You cannot hide either smell. Brush your teeth.

Sarcasm and When to Use It

Sarcasm is a fine art in the west that gets a lot of use. You might have been comedian-funny in the west and you often brought to their knees with laughter.

I thought I was in that category too. And then I came to Thailand. Thais don’t “get” sarcasm. Not at school. Not at dinner. Not at a club. Never. They don’t use it and it goes right by them when used – or, they take offense to it and can’t imagine why you would have said the things you say when using sarcasm.

Sarcasm always sounds like a slight to them – like you’re cutting them down. They don’t understand how you could say one thing and mean something else.

When you use sarcasm with a Thai s/he feels a loss of face and it hurts. They’ll continue smiling as long as they can, but at some point, if you keep it up you’ll see the breaking point.

When is it OK to use sarcasm with Thais?

Never. I’ve tried over and over for the first couple years and witnessed many other foreigners give it a try as well. It never turns out well. Thais may smile for a bit, trying to keep the smooth flow going, but keep it up and you’ll quickly boil them right over. It’s not a pretty sight.

Thai Food Tips

One of the most common fears for first-time visitors to Thailand is that the food is not foreign-belly friendly. Many guidebooks cite horror stories about food poisoning overseas, but most tourists in Thailand won’t have any serious issues.

Thailand has pretty good standards of cleanliness. Though probably not considered world-class, Thailand would rank highly in comparison with all its Asian neighbors.

Some visitors eat all their meals from food stalls lining the streets and don’t experience any problems. Others might drink a cup of chai yen (sweet Thai tea) and spend the rest of their vacation leapfrogging restrooms.

Pay attention to the following food tips and you’ll probably be just fine:

“Clean Food Good Taste.” Occasionally, at a street-side vendor or restaurant, you’ll see this green and blue sign. Consider it a fairly reliable indicator that the owner cares about cleanliness and food preparation standards.

Eat where there are many Thai people. Thais know where the food is safe and delicious.

Follow the yellow shirts. Thais in short-sleeved yellow Polo-type shirts, to show respect to the king, are often government workers, teachers, and other professional employees that have a little more money to spend on food. Thais with more money usually eat at places a step up from the cheaper places – and you probably should, too.

Stay away from pre-made food that might have been prepared days ago. It’s safer to watch your food cooked fresh in front of you. You don’t want to eat from a vendor with pale yellow chickens hanging behind the glass and festering in the Bangkok sunshine day after day without customers. High turnover is key.

No MSG. If you don’t want MSG, you must say something, because some vendors add it in spoonfuls. Many vendors in tourist areas will understand, “No MSG please.” But if not, in Thai you’d say, “My sy pawng choo rote ka” if you’re a female, and, “My sy pawng choo rote krup” if you’re a man.

Insist on choosing your food. If there’s food on display – point to what you want. You’re paying for it, so show them which one you want; don’t let them choose the older food for you. At fruit markets pick all your own fruit.

Bring home remedies. Don’t forget the Imodium AD and other preferred remedies from home, just in case! You may not be able to find exactly what you’re looking for in the pharmacies here.

If you do start to feel significantly ill, you should go to a hospital or clinic quickly so they can sort out the issue and help you return to good health. Medical treatment is very inexpensive compared to the USA and other western countries. Thai doctors have a lot of experience with diagnosing and treating food poisoning, so let them help so you can enjoy the rest of your vacation exploring amazing Thailand.

You probably love Thai food but you order the same things all the time because you don’t know what to get that you might like.

I think there are many people that don’t know what to eat when they go to a Thai food restaurant. Before I came to Thailand I usually ordered the same things over and over. If I ate with someone that ordered something different – I tried it and almost always loved it. Thai food is so diverse, so delicious in all its different forms… I won’t lie, Thailand’s food had a lot to do with my choice to come here when I left the USA. I looked at India, Thailand and Viet Nam. In the end Thailand’s safe environment won me over. But, I’ve been loving Thai food for years here.

I wondered, is it possible for me to eat Thai food full-time? It was a tough question because I usually only ate two or three things at a Thai restaurant in the US. Typically I would have Gai Pad King (ginger chicken) and an appetizer that wasn’t even Thai – but it was in the Thai restaurant. It was called “Crab Rangoon” at a couple of Thai restaurants I visited often. It was a fried crab wrapped in pastry appetizer that was really delicious. I’ve asked many restaurants and friends here in Thailand if they ever heard of Crab Rangoon – or anything similar. Nobody has. Hmm, go figure.

Basic Thai Language Tips

This is a basic Thai lesson that will help your vacation be more enjoyable as you can interact with Thais using their language. At least you can try!

Thais take their time to be polite with each other, you should too. Males use “Krup” which sounds more like “kup,” and females use “Ka” at the end of nearly every sentence to be polite.

In the examples below I will use “krup” since I’m a man. Substitute “ka” for “krup” where you see it below if you are a woman.

There are five tones that make the Thai language a bit difficult to grasp at first. If you’re in Bangkok or southern Thailand they tend not to use the tones as much as they do in the north and northeast regions. You will be understood more in these places. Tones are very difficult to teach without sound, and I won’t attempt it here.

Lastly, Thais don’t aspirate the last sound in their words. What that means is when you say something like “krup,” there is no “pa” sound for the “p” like we would enunciate in English. Instead, the Thais close their mouths for the ‘p’ sound and that’s it, no ‘pa’ and release of air. Practice saying all words without the aspiration on the last sound.

On the right side of each vocabulary word is an approximate pronunciation. If you’re using American English you’ll probably read it and pronounce it correctly. I’ve put tips in parenthesis to clarify.

Basic Opposites

Hello – sawat dtee krup

Good Bye – sawat dtee krup

Yes – chy kup

No – my chy kup or just, my krup. By putting “my” in front of nearly anything you can create a negative.

Correct – chai krup

Incorrect – my chy krup

Woman – poo ying

Man – poo chy

Left – sy

Right – kwah

Large – yi (long i sound)

Small – lek

Fast – lay o (long o sound)

Slow – Cha Cha

Have, there is – Mee

Don’t have, there isn’t – my mee

Feel fine – sa by

Don’t feel good – my sa by

I know – pom roo or pom loo

I don’t know – pom my roo or pom my loo

Wants

I want – ow

Do you want? – ow my? When using my at the end it acts as a question, like “You want, no?”

Do you want to see a movie – by doo nung my?

Shopping – shopping

I want to rent a car – yaak rote chow kup (long o in rote, chow sounds like the italian “ciaobella”

I want to rent a motorbike – yaak rote moto-sy chow krup

Food (a hahn)

Eat – gin (g as in go)

Drink – doo-eum

Hungry – hue (long u)

Water – naam

Hot water – naam ron or naam lon

Cold water – naam yen

Ice – naam kang

Salt – glue-uh (long u in glue, short in uh)

Rice – kowl

Sticky rice – kowl nee ow

Fried rice with pork – kowl pad moo

Fried rice with chicken – kowl pad gy

Fried rice with shrimp – kowl pad goong

Spicy (with peppers) – pet

Not spicy – my pet

Snack / desert – ka nom

Delicious – aloy or aroy if you can roll your r’s.

My stomach is full – im lao

Places

Bathroom / Toilet – hong naam

Where is the toilet? – hong naam yoo tee ny krup?

Hotel – rong ram – if you roll your r’s you’ll have more people understand you.

Store – ron

Restaurant – ron a hahn

Airport – sa naam bin

Train – rote fy (long o)

Bus – rote may (long o and a)

Taxi – taak see

Post Office – post or, tee tahm gahn bpry sa nee

Other Basic Words

To go – ow bpy

Speak – poodt

Funny, fun – sanook

Friend – pew-un

Maybe – bahng tee

Restroom – hong naam

Shower – ab naam

Again – eek

Sorry – kar todt krup

I am an American – pom kon uhmerigun krup

Thai language – pasa Thai

English language – pasa ungrit

Never mind – my pen ry often sounds like, may buh ly

Speaking Thai

Why don’t even foreigners that speak Thai speak it well?

Thais don’t care that you don’t pronounce words well – hell, half of them can’t speak well enough to make everyone happy either. Thai is a tough, involved language.

I know you’ve heard it before – but, you MUST add “Krup” or “Ka” to the end of your sentences – OFTEN. In 5 years I’ve probably seen less than 5 westerners use “krup” and “ka” in more than their first sentence – as in, “Sawasdee Krup” or “Ka”.

Thais LOVE it when you speak more politely. They overlook all your other mistakes if you can just be polite by adding this simple suffix to most sentences.

There are hundreds of books you can choose from to help you learn Thai language but the best dictionary I’ve found for learning Thai is a small yellow one, “Robertson’s Practical English-Thai Dictionary.”

Thai Audio courses like Pimsleur Thai Learning Course and interactive language lessons online are also highly effective. If you’re serious about learning Thai get the Rosetta Stone Thai course.

Thailand has a Male-Dominated Society

I want to tell you a short story about a girl I teach in Mathyom 3 (M3), the high school American equivalent of a ninth-grade class.

She is very sweet and quiet, tall, has braces, and is fifteen years old. I’ll call her “Ying”. She’s in the English program at this respected government school. She isn’t that good at math – the subject I teach, but at English, she is rather talented.

Ying was frequently late to my class last term and absent many times. She skipped my class numerous times last term too.

The head of the English program at our school, a middle-aged Thai woman, called the M3 teachers into the office today to discuss a problem with one of the students. To my surprise, the student was, Ying.

She laid it out for us…

“Ying has been late to many classes – and skipped many classes. She has been absent 17 times this term already.

Ying has a “bad boy” for a boyfriend. Actually, she doesn’t want him as a boyfriend anymore, but the boy has threatened her that he will kill her family and her if she breaks up with him, so she continues dating him.

Ying’s boyfriend often takes her behind the restrooms here on campus to kiss and fondle her – from what we’re told by other teachers that have found them.”

In Thai society, this kind of thing happens. The male can feel like it’s his right to do whatever he wants with the girl.

Is this situation highly unusual? Probably there aren’t more than one of these guys in this school of 3,000 students. Maybe there are. This girl’s family has a lot of money and a business here in town. They spend 60,000 THB per year to send Ying to school in our English program. Her parents also send her to private classes after school hours, which probably run another 20-30,000 THB per year.

Do you know what the craziest part of this relationship is?

The boy needs money… so, in what is rather typical Thai male fashion, he goes to her to get it.

Ying’s parents stopped giving her money because somehow they found out. She only receives enough money to eat at school and nothing extra. So, her boyfriend got creative.

He makes her go into her own homeroom class and collect money from her friends – the entire class, so that they all must give him some money!

If she doesn’t collect it, she gets hit. He has hit her on many occasions we were told. Of course, her classmates feel bad for her and give her the money.

Now, this is all crazy enough and we could imagine a man doing this… but, this is a 16-year-old boy in the grade above hers. Is that bizarre? Not in Thailand it isn’t.

Of course, we foreign teachers asked the director what the school and her parents are going to do about it.

You know what she said?

“What can we do? He threatened to hurt Ying and her parents if Ying breaks up with him. He threatened to beat her up if they stop giving her money.”

We were pretty astounded. So, what was the plan we asked again…

“Not sure.”

She then tells us that this boy is part of a gang here in the town and that they’re a very bad group of kids. I reminded her and everyone in the meeting that this was totally unacceptable and, if they wanted to take care of the problem it would only cost a few thousand baht to pay some guys to take care of it.

Apparently many people in town were frightened of the gang the kid belongs to.

To be terrorized by a group of 16-year-olds and to have no response except to continue letting a girl get molested and beat up by a guy she doesn’t love or even like anymore just isn’t an option to me.

I’m no stranger to violence, being from the US and having been in many altercations during my life – while in the armed forces and other places… but, this is Thailand man, this is where they don’t need to take any of this nonsense – just get rid of the jackasses!

What did they end up doing? Nothing… it may be going on to this day, years later for all I know. She’s a senior now so maybe she’ll get to move to Bangkok and he’ll remain. Not sure.

There is violence among husbands and wives – 3 husbands beat their wives on our soi of 12 homes. That’s the three we’re aware of. While I don’t think it’s a majority of Thai men that hit and brutalize their wives or girlfriends – it’s common. It’s very common to have female teachers come to work with bruises on their arms and faces. I even saw a Thai man strangling his wife in the street, pushing her back over a table while many neighbors looked on. I pulled the motorbike up to them, shining the lights on the guy and he stopped and walked back into his yard. They had a 3-year old that was crying hysterically, holding on to her mother’s leg as she was choked so hard she was dizzy and stumbled when he finally let go.

So, the male-dominant position over the females is allowed to continue at many levels -even high school. Will you get used to it? Probably not. Will you get used to your female assistant teachers getting beat up and coming to work with bruises on their faces? Probably not. It happens here though and it’s something you’ll need to deal with in one way or another. Hopefully, you’ll not know any students like Ying.

Do Thais generally discriminate against black or dark-skinned applicants?

Generally – yes. You will have a more difficult time finding solid employment, and, you may be replaced as they find lighter skinned applicants for your position.

I wish I was joking. It’s a sad state of affairs, however, to their credit – Thais discriminate against other Thais, Burmese, Laotians, Cambodians, Indians, anyone with dark skin as well.

The lighter the skin – the better prospect you have of finding any job, and a good job, in Thailand.

That said, there are those with African heritage who are teaching in Thailand. Usually, they work with higher-level schools whose staff, owners, and students understand that skin color has nothing at all to do with teaching ability.

Thai FACE

What is the concept of ‘face’? Why is it very important to understand it?

Face is one of the underlying attributes guiding Thai behavior. Thais are very concerned about losing face, which westerns might compare to losing respect, among their friends or strangers. Losing face causes embarrassment, a loss of respect, a loss of pride, a loss of worth really.

If a Thai man loses face, in front of his friends especially, he may resort to violence in a few seconds. Though girls also explode and will fight, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as with men.

A person with a lot of face is someone well respected in society and someone that others like a lot. Face is related to the individual’s standing in society too, like status. Politicians, doctors, successful business people, families owning a lot of land, all have more face than common Thais.

Extra care is taken by all Thais not to step too heavily on those that are in high social positions. One that has a high position in society will be embarrassed more easily. When people in high social positions are embarrassed or angry, well, bad things can happen because they have money and connections.

A Thai gains face by doing things that help the flow of social interaction go smoothly. If one overlooks small or large transgressions one gains large amounts of face. If one insults people then face is easily lost and hard to regain.

As I mentioned before, another underlying social interest is in keeping the smooth social flow going… keeping interactions between people light and positive.

Thais do gloss right over things that might cause you a problem or other Thais. Even things that may personally upset them or go against what they wanted, they’re able to give up and move forward if it’s beneficial to the group. Thai society puts a premium on selflessness and social harmony.

Thais don’t usually want to know the truth, admit the truth, or scream the truth if it will screw up the flow of things… that illusion of cohesiveness among people present. They don’t want to change the illusion.

To foreigners seeing this happen, the truth being ignored, or personal wants being overridden for the happiness of the group – it’s a bit maddening. You should get used to it as soon as you can because it happens often and consistently.

Thais want to avoid confrontation. They hate it. They want to smooth everything over like smoothing peanut butter on bread. They want to keep everyone smiling and happy when in person. Sometimes people will lie until they turn purple to retain face. Often times the two parties arguing will both know the truth, and yet avoid talking about it because it would cause the other to lose too much face. The person that knows the truth and that doesn’t force it out of the other person gains face by letting it go.

Someone might see a man go into a hotel with a woman obviously not his wife. Thais will gossip to no end about it, yet if the wife of the guy asks someone who saw – it didn’t happen. If the guy was caught with pictures and videotape… he will NOT admit it either. They will never admit it. To admit it would cause a loss of face. It’s amazing to watch social interactions play out in Thailand. You’ll never know what’s going on!

There is rarely a harsh word said in public. Rarely. But, if one is said it may quickly escalate into a free-for-all brawl that includes throwing bottles, cutting people open, lots of kicking and usually, no always, it includes multiple guys beating on 1 or 2 people at a time.

There is no such thing as a one-on-one fight here. I’ve never seen one. It is groups of people on a small number of people, or one person – usually. It happens when someone is eating dinner at an outside restaurant and they get a wooden stick or metal bar to the back of the head. A seventeen-year-old football (soccer) player died that way in Ubon Ratchathani after a disagreement while playing a pickup game an hour prior. He was a student at our school. He died there at the dinner table, nobody helping to defend him against the other boy with the pipe and his friends.

It happens mostly when Thais are drunk. They embarrass more easily and are more likely to embarrass others when in that state – as is everyone. But, the Thais just explode when they feel they are losing face.

The newspapers in Thailand are not quick to discover or write about killings, fights, rapes, etc. unless they involve foreigners and then the coverage is very good. There is little that will be found in newspapers in smaller cities about Thai on Thai crime. There is just such little flow of information.

There are some foreign-owned newspapers that report on violence against foreigners as often as they find it but they surely miss some happenings. The Pattaya Mail is one such publication that always has a list of crimes and crazy goings-on that happened in the tourist city of Pattaya.

During your stay try hard not to cause anyone to lose face. Try to build face with each social encounter and you’ll do well in Thailand.

First Few Days in Thailand

When you first touch down at the airport in Bangkok you’ll definitely feel like you’re on another planet.

Spend a day or two in Bangkok and get a feel for the place, the people, the food, etc. If you’re not planning on staying in Bangkok you’ll likely not encounter Thais speaking English to a high degree elsewhere. Many signs in Bangkok are in English and Thai and this will help you become oriented to the country and culture a little bit.

There is little culture going on in Bangkok – so you won’t be so overwhelmed. Bangkok, though I dislike it – is a good place to relax and walk around for a couple of days as you come out of the fog that exists as the memory of your home country dissipates in a steamy haze.

Experience Bangkok then, but don’t judge Thailand by it. Many people despise Bangkok, but it’s not representative of the rest of the country. Actually, the only other city that is remotely close to that kind of big city atmosphere is the much smaller city of Chiang Mai in the far north.

The really amazing places in Thailand are the smaller cities in my opinion. Places like Ubon Ratchathani or Sisaket are real gems. There is little to do there, but the people are just amazing and kind souls. I stayed in that area about 20 months before moving, and I often think back to the great times I had with friends and strangers I met while eating at restaurants, walking the streets, or shopping at the mall.

How Much Money Will You Earn?

How much you earn and have to spend is probably related in proportion to how much you’re going to spend while living in Thailand. Though you make less cash in Thailand than you would in Korea, Japan, or Vietnam, your cost of living is significantly less. Or, rather, it could be significantly less if you chose it to be.

There are basically two cost of living levels in Thailand:

  1. Bangkok.
  2. Everywhere else

In fairness, there are a couple of other areas that have a high cost of living closer to Bangkok levels. Koh Samui, Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai are all expensive compared to the rest of the country.

In Bangkok, a foreign teacher has higher expenses and probably needs to make 50,000 Thai Baht (THB) to be able to pay expenses and enjoy some nights out. There are teachers existing on 25,000 THB in Bangkok, but they aren’t taking vacations and having nights out very often or doing anything else that costs money because 25K THB is about the bottom of the scale for being able to live – even frugally, in Bangkok.

The highest-paying jobs are at international schools in Bangkok where you’ll likely be teaching foreign children whose parents are living and working in Thailand. The teachers earning the highest salaries work there and have bachelors or master’s (or higher) degrees in English, and are certified from their home countries to teach. Contracts of 100,000 THB plus are common in this realm.

Outside of Bangkok, 25,000 THB might be an acceptable salary. Earn that in Sisaket, Mukdahan, Roi Ette, Yasothan, or Nong Khai, and you’ll probably be fine. Most places across the country you would be fine at that pay. At that rate you would be keeping a close eye on your finances, but you could make it.

The average teaching salary outside Bangkok for a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree is somewhere around 30,000 THB. Schools routinely give 2,000 THB extra per month for each year a teacher stays on with the school. I know teachers making 40,000 THB per month that started at 30,000 THB and remained at the same school for some years.

Currently, the exchange rate is 32 THB for every dollar. So, the average pay in Thailand for foreign teachers for one month of full-time work is just under $1,000 USD.

Can you survive on these pay rates? Some of you have bills at home that you want to pay. Can you still afford it?

In Bangkok, you probably will need 50,000 THB per month to survive and thrive – especially if you like to go out and drink, or do other things that cost money. I know people that survive just fine on 30,000 THB per month, but they sometimes whine about not having much cash for fun.

In any other city in the country, you would be fine with 30,000 THB per month even if you go out on weekends.

In Bangkok, costs fluctuate wildly, primarily because of rent and where you choose to live. You might pay 7,000 THB or 50,000 THB for a place to live. Almost anywhere else in the country your rent should be around 5,000 THB per month for a house, townhouse, or at a minimum – a nice big flat with 2 bedrooms. Currently, I stay in a flat for 3,000 THB per month and it’s quite fine for me.

I’ll cover typical monthly housing, transportation, furnishing and other costs in greater detail in a later chapter.

There are other options for making more money, sometimes extra classes at the school you work for might be available. You might make a couple hundred baht per hour to teach extra classes after school at the school.

Or, you might choose the freelance route and line up paying students after hours and on the weekend out of your home or theirs. Some teachers add 10,000 to 50,000 THB per month to their regular teaching salaries by filling their available free time with these extra classes. More about this illegal activity later.

An alternative you have is teaching in another Asian country like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, China, or Taiwan. You’d make more money with the same qualifications but the quality of life, the lifestyle, isn’t quite what it is in Thailand.

Note: Unless you are teaching extra classes you probably cannot make payments on bills you have in your home country.

Two years back I did some surveys of foreign teachers in Thailand to find out what they were earning and spending. I’ve adjusted the table below for today’s prices and salaries.

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