How to Motivate Children Learning EFL in Thailand – Students Can Learn to Love English


When I taught EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in Thailand, I noticed quickly how difficult it can be to motivate Thai children to enjoy learning English. Either they find English difficult, they think it’s boring, or they’re shy and hate to speak English in front of other students. All of these factors and more can make it difficult to motivate children in Thailand to love learning English. But it’s not impossible. There are several tricks that helped get my students over the fear of looking stupid when they spoke English and actually got them to enjoy learning. The same tricks could help yours too.

Play Lots of Games – One wonderful way to get children motivated to learn English is to play games. In study after study of students learning EFL, it’s been shown students (both children and adults) who play lots of games in the classroom not only have more fun, but they learn faster too. Games make the classroom more relaxed, the children feel less stressed and, once the game is on and they’re having fun, it’s hardly like learning at all.

In every EFL class I taught to children (and adults) in Thailand, I played a game. Sometimes it was a 10 minute warm up game or a closing game, teaching a quick grammar point or revision of vocabulary. In other classes, the game was the focus of the hour, with a quick grammar lesson thrown in. After seven years of teaching this way, I saw how much faster my kids learned English and, not only learned, but remembered.

Give Children an Incentive to Do Well – In every EFL class I taught to children, I had a points system to motivate my kids to listen, learn and study. For every game they won, they earned points. For every question they answered in class, they earned points. If I put them into teams, every member of the winning team won points.

Sometimes they earned points for simply being on time and ready to learn. All throughout the month, I kept a running total on a notice board in the classroom of every student’s points total. At the end of each month, the top three students would win a prize (a comic book, a computer game, a toy – something they wanted). And, I’d make sure, every month a different three students won.

As soon as I instituted this points system, I noticed almost every student was suddenly willing to learn English and even study for tests. The secret to the system is to give points away liberally, so each student feels they have a chance of winning.

To some teachers it’s ‘bribery’ but, no, it’s really not. It’s a reward for hard work and an incentive to learn. Plus, as I continued with it, even though my kids earned points, I noticed they also began to enjoy learning English for its own sake because, as they learned more, their English skills became better and then learning English became fun.

Teach About Subjects Children Enjoy – One of the things I noticed with some English teachers in Thailand is they’d insist on teaching a grammar point using mind-numbing material in a text book.

The 50 year-old American guy who wrote the text book might think black holes are fascinating. Believe me, most 12 year olds do not.

They do however love video games, pop music, movie stars, rock bands, TV shows, the latest iPod – in fact, anything trendy and fashionable. So, instead of teaching a boring grammar lesson on the future tense using the material in the text book, I would create a lesson around Warcraft III (a popular video game) or Linkin Park (a favorite rock band of many of my students).

Learning about the future tense and black holes is dull – even to me. Learning about the future tense when you get to talk about new add-ons coming up for Warcraft III or Linkin Park’s soon-to-be released CD and it’s amazing how much more attentive the children in your class will be.

These are just three ways to motivate children to enjoy learning EFL. There are many more.

The three things a teacher should do are make the class fun, give some kind of incentive and learn about the latest trends. With just those three things, not only will your kids be more motivated to learn English, but you’ll find they’ll start to talk to you more as, all of a sudden, you’ve become ‘cool’. And that can only help their English skills which, as a teacher, that’s what I’m there for, regardless what means I need to use to get there.


Photo – Students in Thailand, copyright prufrock 27, Creative Commons License