A Warning To People Who Want To Take The P6 Exam
Language, language learning, better say ‘learning Thai in Bangkok’. When I came here in August 2003 I knew from the beginning, if I want to stay here for a long time, I have to learn Thai. I studied for six months at the ULS school on Suriwong road and then another four months at Unity on Sukhumvit.
After the first six month the students will have a quite good ‘overview’ of the language. You can read and write everything but you are far from ‘understanding’ all. There are four different schools in Bangkok with similar teaching methods: ULS, Unity, AAA and TLA. Those schools offer to prepare the students for the so called ‘6th grade education exam’. Every December there is a test at the Education Ministry. The five topics of that exam are: writing a letter, writing a short story, dictation, multiple choice questions and ‘correct’ reading (no communication!!!). So far so good.
After studying for six month (basics) and one ‘eclective’ module (social problems, they have a lot to offer here, don’t they) I took the three month preparation course. It was my biggest mistake since my stay in Thailand so far. A total nightmare and a waste of time either. Before the course starts the headmaster from Unity predicted a 50/50 chance for me. My communication skills in Thai are not bad. I’m living in Samut Prakhan. Nobody (by the essence of the word) speaks English or any other foreign language here so to communicate in Thai is a must. After six month of studying I was able to explain myself about nearly everything. Hardly grammatically correct (similar to my English) but the people understand me whether it is about politics, economics or football.
Foreigners who want to learn Thai should be aware of the fact that there is a huge difference between the written and the spoken Thai. Written Thai is usually very polite and a whole different stock of words is in use than in spoken Thai. In English or in German you have to know 26 letters and you are more or less able to write every word correct. In Thai (like in Chinese or Japanese) the students have to memorize the word in ‘total’. There are nearly double that number of letters. A lot of special letters, silent letters, the pronunciation of a letter at the beginning of a word is sometimes different when the letter is at the end and so on. But with a lot of work and patience ‘catching’ the language is possible. For example, I think that reading Thai is quite easy.
Back to the 3 month ‘P 6’-preparation. I studied together with 18 other students. Most of them were from Japan, one Singaporean, one Korean and three other farangs. We must memorize six different templates for the letters (that means six A4-pages!). The funny thing about that was the letter to the parents. We had to imagine we were 12 year old Thai children, writing from Bangkok to the parents in the countryside how much we miss them and the village life. The daily dictation (that’s how the day started) included words about everything one can imagine (religion, royal family, customs, history, fruits, ghosts, problems of factory workers etc.). As mentioned above, when you want to write correctly, you have to memorize a stock of a few thousand words.
The average of my mistakes differs from 30 to 60 every day. To writing short stories was much more fun. When there were topics like “What do you like about Bangkok / Thailand?” or “Why are you here?” you could write a lot. If there were topics like “Why are Thai flowers so beautiful” or “Write about the compounds of Thai food” it was the opposite. The multiple choice questions were sometimes quite easy. But a lot of times I didn’t get anything, especially when they were about poems and in ‘phassaa boran’ (old Thai).
We got the same books as 12 year old Thai students. Books about how Thais stick together in their villages, how they love there families, their country and stuff like that. It was OK but a bit more modern would be better. The Asian school system is far from the American or European one. Sitting silent in the class, not questioning anything and only memorizing, memorizing and memorizing, that’s the their way of learning. It’s hard for a European to get used to that.
If you ask Thai teacher about a certain problem, they sometimes felt like you want to insult them so I stopped asking after a while. The Japanese are fine with that. None of them had any problem and everybody passes the test. But when it comes to their communication skills, they are as bad in Thai as they are in English. We took two pret-tests before the exam. I failed the first and passed the second. Let’s say I was on the borderline.
For the exam itself, we had to turn up well dressed (teacher style!). A thing, which I don’t have a problem with (“when you are in Rome, do as the Romans”). Comparing to the pre tests, the exam was quite easy. I was absolute convinced that I passed the thing until I received a letter last week that said I failed because I only got 44 points out of 100 (51 points would mean passing). What a pity! Nearly 65% of the 300+ people who took the test failed also. The bizarre thing is, for Westerners the test is not necessary anymore (except for missionaries who want to apply for a religious work visa). Before, when a farang wanted to work as a teacher in Thailand, he needed that certificate. From what I heard, at that time the test was quite easy and nearly everybody passed.
Nowadays, in contradiction to the difficulty to pass, it is a useless piece of paper. It is useless for your future in Thailand (even if you apply for a resident visa, you don’t need the ‘P6’), the preparation is hard work, no fun
at all and the whole thing says nothing about your real ability to communicate in Thai. When you are studying at the four schools mentioned above (indeed, they are the best in Bangkok) take as much elective modules as possible (like reading newspapers,
Thai culture, Thai history, Buddhism, they also have a bible course!) but avoid the ‘P6’-preparation. It’s not all about my frustration of failing the exam (which I am really are!), even during the preparation I thought “what
a waste of time and energy”. So beware!
I too also studied Thai at one of the language schools you mentioned for many, many months, and was approached by the "ajarn yai" (head teacher) to do the P6 exam. After a few questions about what it involved, I decided that it was not for me. As a teacher, I could quickly see that it was test preparation, and not about learning the language as such and that that didn't really interest me. Also, many of the archaic issues that you mention here put me off quickly. But there is one more issues that you have to be aware of, and that is that the language schools essentially want to be the school with the highest number, an highest percentage, of P6 graduates. There is a definite reputation issue there. I agree entirely, the P6 certificate is not necessary to farangs at all.
Actually, I must write a story about my time studying Thai….a few funnies there alright, including the day I accidentally broke the toilet….now *that* is a great story!