During my first year teaching EFL in Thailand, getting students to say more than a few words in English was just about impossible. Thais are shy and speaking in English is difficult for them, so finding topics they were interested in was the key to getting the conversation moving. There’s nothing worse than an EFL conversation class with no-one except the teacher doing the talking, but if you use one of these good conversation topics, you’ll soon discover you have the opposite problem – getting your EFL students in Thailand to stop talking.
Gossip – Some EFL teachers in Thailand dissuade others from talking about gossip. For me, if it gets my students talking and improves their conversation skills and self-confidence, I don’t care what they talk about.
Talking about gossip about movie stars (Thai or western), pop stars, politicians, even gossip about friends can be the key to getting Thai EFL students talking. I’ve had some fascinating EFL conversation classes about Tata Young (famous Thai pop star), Thaksin (the ex-Prime Minister of Thailand) and Natalie Glebova (ex-Miss Universe and married to a Thai tennis star) and I’ve also learned a lot about Thai culture myself.
Thais love to gossip and they love to talk about famous people and getting the conversation started is as simple as bringing in a Thai gossip magazine and letting them go with it.
Music – Most Thai EFL students love to sing so a class talking about their favorite singers, or favorite songs is bound to be successful. You can even bring in some music that you like, play a couple of songs and get them to tell you what their opinions are. I’ve had some extremely fun classes with Thai EFL students telling me why they like Big Ass (a Thai band) or why Tata Young isn’t really Thai (she’s too aggressive and outspoken for a Thai woman it seems).
Fashion – Most of my EFL adult students are Thai women and they wear new outfits every day. They also love to shop. A fun class for them is to talk about their latest shopping bargains, where they like to shop, where they hate to shop, what they like to buy, what is fashionable right now and who they think has good fashion sense. Even the guys will sometimes chip in with prices of things they buy and which shoe shop sells better shoes than others.
What Do Farangs Do That Thais Think are Weird? – Some of my funniest EFL conversation classes with Thai students have been about farangs. Thais call any westerner a ‘farang’ and they are often fascinated by the things we do and the way we behave (we’re so unlike Thais in just about every way). I always have a class with EFL students where I ask them to tell me what they think is weird about farangs and, once they realize I’m not going to get angry, they have a ball.
I’ve had questions like “Why do farangs wear their shoes in the house?” (just about everyone in Asia takes their shoes off before entering a house), “Why do farang women not wear bras?” (Thai women always wear bras), and “Why are farangs so serious all the time?” (Thais laugh constantly), and then we have discussions about why they think farangs do what they do. It’s funny what they come up with.
Food – It’s a joke among western teachers, but Thais really love to talk about food. Where westerners will have a quick conversation about the cost of a meal and where to eat, Thais will have long conversations about the best restaurant to buy noodles at, who sells the spiciest som tam, how to make tom yam geung, and why you should only buy dim sum at one restaurant in Bangkok.
Food in any other country is a two minute conversation. Food in Thailand can take all day and they still haven’t finished talking when it’s time to go home.
These five topics of conversation for EFL students are simple things to talk about but are perfect for teaching Thai EFL students. They’re fun, they’re not likely to offend anyone and opinions are not strong ones so no-one is likely to be shy about speaking.