Meet Sirilak Sitthiwong, or Siri. After working as an English teacher/military officer at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Language Institute, Thailand, for 3 years, she got a scholarship from the Armed Forces to pursue her master’s degree. After graduation, she will go back there to resume her job. Currently, she is working as a Thai teacher at the Yamada Language Center, where there are currently 7 students in the community.
Why did you come to the LTS program?
After having taught English in Thailand for quite some time and learned how to teach mostly by doing and trying things out, I got a great opportunity to come here and acquire knowledge and experience through more principled approaches. When I was looking for an MA program and university, the LTS program stood out as it suits my needs and interests. One of the planned missions that I will have to do is to teach Thai to military personnel from ASEAN countries and the program offers a flexibility to focus on any and more than one language. Fortunately, I have not only developed Thai lessons for some LTS courses but also have a chance to really teach Thai for the first time at the Yamada Language Center through Keli’s recommendation. The fact that LTS is an intensive and comprehensive program also allows me to go back and resume my job in a timely manner.
What is it like participating in the LTS program as an international student?
Being an international student who learns English and how to teach English at the same time is a very rewarding experience. While gaining more in-depth theoretical and methodological foundation, I’m learn other interesting aspects of American English and am amazed by how little I know about American pragmatics. I feel so lucky to be among friends who are very supportive and understanding and whom I can ask many questions about their language, no matter how small it is. I was quite prepared for the cultural difference and how I should handle that before I came here, but I did not expect the difference to be this much valued by friends and teachers in terms of language acquisition. Having a culturally different context from many others helps me reflect on what I think will work and what will not for my students when I develop lesson plans, course design, and currently my MA project.
Tell me about your work with the Yamada Language Center. What has been most rewarding about working in the YLC?
Teaching Thai at the YLC gives me opportunities to put what I learn from the LTS program into practice almost immediately. As part of my teaching, I tell my students what I’m working on this term and ask them if they are interested in doing what I come up with. They are quite happy to be my guinea pig and give me valuable feedback. Fall term was my first time teaching Thai and since then I have learned a lot about my own language. To plan my lessons, I don’t have any textbook to follow and if I had it, it would not help me much anyway because my students (initially as small as five) have their own individual goals and needs which are very different from each other. I learned about backward design from my working experience here and that happened even before I knew it was called ‘backward design’. Creating materials and activities from scratch is what I find the most enjoyable and the ones that the students helped me create in turn engaged them the most.
I have total beginners and some intermediate students who have been to Thailand before. At first, I hesitated to put them together because I did not know how to manage a mixed-level class effectively, but Jeff recommended it so that I had more time to do my regular LTS studying. I was struggling with the differentiation at first and I felt it was too cumbersome that I decided to separate them according to their levels. I was lucky that I had a Thai friend to help me out. After giving it many tries and finally hearing from the students that they learned a lot from working across levels, I felt a lot more confident and keep this practice. Being in a friendly environment with a very supportive boss like Jeff and nice colleagues, I have discovered a great deal about language teaching, which is different but complementary to my role as an English teacher back in Thailand.
What is your MA project about, and why did you choose this topic?
My project is about using films and TV series to develop oral skills proficiency. This type of materials is always of my interest and passion because they are what I learned English from. I remembered dreaming about studying abroad, seeing what I saw in the movies and talking to the people I heard from the movies . It was this dream that drove me to put more effort when it came to studying English. While many people think of films as materials for practicing vocabulary and listening skills, which can be done at home, I see them as contextually rich resources for speaking skills as well. Especially with some careful guidance, films can be triggers for various conversations. I’m also interested in cultural/pragmatic aspects that students can learn from watching films. Many of them reflect real life that has not been very well presented in textbooks.