Brain left and right creativity functions Sketch concept

Is Learning English a Science or an Art?

English Vocabulary ‘word pairs’ can make you wonder.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article makes reference to something called “multi-words,” which is ECSC’s own term for vocabulary that contains more than one word.

I’m riffing a bit here, so bear with me…

The thought occurred to me that teaching English in Thailand is traditionally quite academic. As in pedantic, but not really practical. Formal, but not very fruitful (in terms of production). Lots of grammar, not much in the way of English vocabulary.

You only have to look at the data to see what I mean. Native-Thai speakers do not demonstrate proficiency with the English they’ve been taught like most other non-native English-speaking groups do. But why?

Perhaps it’s because ESL instruction here in Bangkok revolves around explanations of rules & regulations and demonstrations of frameworks & structures. It reduces English to a series of logical steps: Add A to B and then insert C to produce D.

Now that I think about it, you can sort of see mathematics if you squint hard enough.

Want an example? Here’s a not uncommon grammatical “equation” that many native-speaking English teachers write on whiteboards in classrooms all over The Land of Smiles every day:

S + have/has + been + V-ing + for/since…

Or something of the sort, which must be intended for one’s left-brain processor, the calculating side (which is, in fact, where speech and language are processed; as well as where straightforward mathematical tasks are handled). Input in, product out. Science!

On the other side of the divide, right-brainedness is typically regarded as the more “creative” way of being. Music, imagination, intuition. Art!

Unfortunately for anyone conjecturing that the endeavor of acquiring English communication ability is less scientific than artistic, the brain’s right hemisphere is agreed to be the nonverbal area.

(I don’t care, I’m going to plow ahead.)

Because maybe it’s just true that the “scientific,” left-brain, grammar-based approach taken in Thailand is effective in certain ESL environments, but not others.

Maybe English learners in places like Cologne and Copenhagen are successful because the appositives, passive voice, and prepositions of place that they learn in the classroom routinely appear in their daily lives in television commercials, overheard conversations, and pop culture – which are three ways that English learners in Bangkok are not so advantaged.

Or maybe Deutsche and Danes rank higher on proficiency surveys (10th and 4th respectively – to Thais’ 101st – in the 2023 EF English Proficiency Index) because Deutsch and Danish bear greater similarity to English such that speakers of those languages must digest fewer systemic differences than speakers of Thai must.

So for sake of argument, let’s assume that Thais don’t have the advantage of English all around them from an early age and they aren’t advantaged by their wonderful language relating closely to pasa Angrit.

Then, would it not make sense to try a new approach to ESL instruction here? One that does immerse students in real English and minimize teaching grammar?

Trying a new approach gets us back to the “Science vs. Art” question.

ECSC eschews the grammar-based instruction predominant in Thailand in favor of a vocabulary-based one. We haven’t invented it. We aren’t improvising a new language-teaching program. We don’t do it just to be different.

ECSC’s way of teaching English to Thai professionals is based on an established methodology called The Lexical Approach, where English vocabulary is emphasized over grammar.

The Lexical Approach has been an established methodology for decades, but it is fair to say that it’s a new approach in Thailand, especially in Business English courses (which are our specialty). This is surprising given the obvious failure in the primary way of teaching English here – a way that’s not only ineffective, but also quite boring!

I mean, writing out grammar structures on a whiteboard like the Present Perfect Continuous above – for the 1,001st time – is demoralizing for students and, frankly, it’s tedious for most teachers, too. The good news is, we don’t board grammar structures, which makes us different from the other providers of Corporate English in Bangkok.

Our students are taught rich units of English vocabulary called multi-words, which include the correct grammar. Or, as we like to say, “the grammar is a free add-on with the vocabulary.”

But there’s almost no need to even mention grammar. What we teach are fully-formed, ready-to-go bits of language that equip Thai professionals to communicate clear, confident Business English without having to remember any rules and structures prior to speaking.

A key aspect of this method is that multi-words vocabulary is distinct from single-word vocabulary. It includes things like idioms, expressions, phrases, and word pairs – which are multiple-word units of vocabulary and which bring us full circle to what we mentioned in the subtitle of this article.

We’ve written several articles about word pairs comprised of one adverb + one adjective (two words) here, here, and here. It was these articles that got me thinking about how wonderfully descriptive adverb + adjective word pairs can be (as well as adjective + noun word pairs and many other common word pairs).

The world has known many “effective communicators” whose ideas were “eloquently spoken.” And “amazing storytellers” whose works were “beautifully written,” such as the “emotionally captivating” speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the “deeply moving” novels of John Steinbeck.

That’s all kinda right-brain stuff, isn’t it?

To learn more about how multi-words help Thai professionals like you to speak English better (พูดภาษาอังกฤษ) or how ECSC’s corporate English courses help Human Resources departments improve their employees’ Business English skills, contact us today.

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