Thai Students Mistakes Make in English


Thai language is very different from English and, hence, Thai students often have various problems when reading, writing and speaking English. There are issues with pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. It is necessary to note that Thai students tend to speak with a distinct accent and use grammar of their first language (Smith, 2001). It is possible to note that interference is one of major causes of the mistakes made by Thai students. Notably, Thai students are exposed to Roman alphabet from early years but they still make spelling mistakes and can have difficulties when reading. As far as punctuation is concerned, Thai language has no punctuation marks and this leads to numerous mistakes in English made by EFL Thai students. More so, sentences in Thai are written with almost no spaces as a space is equivalent to English commas or full stops (Smith, 2001). The present paper provides a brief analysis of mistakes made by Thai students when reading, writing and speaking.

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Mistakes When Writing and Speaking


As has been mentioned above, interference is seen as one of major causes of mistakes made by Thai students. Bennui (2008) stresses that interference is one of the main reasons why Thai students make mistakes in writing, reading and speaking. Admittedly, the Thai language is different from English and lack of knowledge makes students seek for variants in their own language and transfer them into English.

When it comes to writing, Thai students make most mistakes in grammar and vocabulary with fewer occasions of mistakes in spelling. As seen from table 2, spelling mistakes can have two reasons. In the first place, there is interference as Thai students try to accommodate English spelling with words’ pronunciation. It is noteworthy that Thai students have difficulties with pronouncing sibilant and fricative sounds (Bennui, 2008). These difficulties appear in writing as students try to write words in the way they have memorized them.

The other reason is the lack of morphological knowledge which often leads to such common mistake as wrong consonants doubling. In other words, students simply fail to learn and memorize words properly. Such mistakes have little to do with the first language. It is noteworthy that Smith (2001) states that Thai students are acquainted with the Roman alphabet from their childhood and this contributes to their learning. More so, the languages are very different in terms of spelling and interference is unlikely to occur. These can be two central reasons why Thai students make fewer spelling mistakes compared to the ones made in grammar or vocabulary use.


As far as grammar mistakes are concerned, interference plays a major role as well. Thai students tend to employ grammar models of their first language when writing or speaking in English. Watcharapunyawong and Usaha (2013) stress that interference results in common mistakes in such areas as verb tense, word order, comparison structure, subject-verb agreement, the use of nouns, articles, auxiliaries. It is necessary to note that omission is a common mistake especially when it comes to the use of auxiliaries and articles (see table 1). This can be explained by the fact that there are no articles or auxiliaries in Thai and Thais simply use the structure of their first language.

Another common mistake is the wrong word order. Thus, Sersen (2011) claims that Thai students often put adjectives after the noun as it is common for their first language. Smith (2001) also notes that Thai students tend to put question words in two positions, at the beginning and at the end of the sentence as it is possible in the Thai language.

The use of tenses is also a difficulty for Thai students as in the Thai language the verb does not change and it is enough to put an adverbial modifier to create the necessary context and understand time reference. Thus, in English Thai students may put an unchanged verb form and add a time reference. Notably, mistakes associated with the use of tenses are similar to the ones related to the use of noun forms. In Thai, nouns remain unchanged as there are no plural and singular forms. Thais add numerical descriptions or other contexts to make it clear that the noun is used in plural.

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Therefore, Thai students often fail to use the plural form of the noun. It is also important to add that the case with nouns is associated with grammar and pronunciation. Grammatical peculiarities have been mentioned above and the use of plural forms of nouns is a difficulty for Thais as they tend to omit the last consonant, which is common for their first language. This is done to put the stress on the last syllable. Notably, when it comes to the use of present and past tenses the same omission occurs since the endings –s and –ed are omitted.

Substitution is also a result of interference. For instance, there is one word mây used for negation in the Thai language. It is put before a word without any auxiliaries. Hence, Thai students may often put not or no (as they confuse these negations since they have only one in their first language) before a verb (see table 1). Similar substitution appears when it comes to comparison as the Thai language has an equivalent to more and the most and, hence, irrespective of the number of syllables, Thai students use these words to form comparisons without adding endings (see table 1). Clearly, these are all examples of interference.


Vocabulary mistakes are caused by interference and lack of knowledge. At that, Smith (2001) stresses that Thai students are diligent and pay specific attention to learning new words. In many cases, they have extensive vocabulary but can make mistakes due to the interference. Literal translation is one of the forms of this interference. As seen from table 1, students tend to misuse words failing to take into account collocations (Tse, 2014).

There is a peculiar mistake made by Thai students. Substitution in the use of vocabulary is specific as Thai students use words borrowed from English and which were somewhat changed in Thai (see table 1). Thus, numerous borrowings from English are accommodated to the Thai language (consonant clusters are usually changed, for example, ) pám – pump.

Speaking and Reading Mistakes

As far as speaking and reading are concerned, such mistakes as omission and substitution are common among Thai students. Since consonant clusters are not common for Thai, students tend to substitute them with additional syllables, for example, fa-rown instead of frown (see table 3). Again, the substitution occurs as a result of interference. Students pronounce the word in a way which is more suitable for them. Omission is also associated with characteristics of the Thai language. Thus, Thai students tend to omit sounds /r/ and /l/ in their first language and this is transferred to their speech when they speak English.

As has been mentioned above, the stress is put on the last syllable in Thai. This is transferred to English by Thai students who change the stress and sometimes fail to pronounce last consonants to make the stress on the last syllable (see table 2 and table 3). The latter case is common when Thai students use verbs in present or past tense and omit the endings –s, -ed.


On balance, it is possible to note that there are two major reasons for mistakes Thai students make when writing, reading and speaking in English. These are interference and lack of knowledge. Admittedly, lack of knowledge is a reason common for all learners of any foreign language. When it comes to interference, Thai students have numerous difficulties associated with it. Notably, Thai students have more issues with grammar and vocabulary than with spelling. This can be accounted for little interference in spelling due to the difference between the two languages. At the same time, interference is the major reason of grammar and vocabulary mistakes. This is an important finding which can have a variety of implications. Thus, educators have to take this into account while developing strategies to help Thai students learn English.

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The student is 18 and his first language is Thai. The level of the student’s proficiency is elementary. The learner has quite significant vocabulary but his writing and grammar are poor. The young man is learning English as he wants to master the language to obtain a well-paid job as it is great advantage for an applicant to speak English. The socioeconomic status of the family has improved considerably over the past few years and his parents are now able to invest more in their son’s education. However, the student will not use the language extensively in the nearest future as he is attending a college in Thailand. He might use English in communicating via social networks and at English classes but he is unlikely to have enough English practice. It is necessary to note that since the student’s first language is Thai, he is acquainted with the English alphabet. More so, he uses some words borrowed from English though he pronounces the words in a specific ‘Thai’ manner. Thai and English are very different and the student has numerous issues with pronunciation (especially stress) and grammar.

Evaluation of Linguistic Proficiency


The student was asked a number of questions concerning his plans for future and the reasons for learning English. It is possible to provide a piece of his oral speech to analyze some of common mistakes the student makes:

  1. aɪ ta-‘raɪ ‘lɜːn ‘ɪŋglɪʃ ‘verɪ ‘gu… ɪt’ɪs ‘verɪ dɪfɪ’kut
  2. ‘bʌt ‘aɪ ‘get pɜː’fekt
  3. ənd we’peɪ ‘ʤɔb

The orthographically transcribed text is as follows: “I try learn English very good… It is very difficult. But I get perfect and well-paid job”. It is clear that interference is the major reason for the mistakes (see table 1). It is also noteworthy that when the student is more focused and speaks slowly, he makes fewer mistakes. At the same time, the speaker’s listening skills are proper when the teacher uses simple words and speaks slowly.

Table 1

Speaking: Pronunciation Analysis

Number Error Correction Orthographic representation Analysis/reason for error
1 ta-‘raɪ traɪ try In Thai, consonant clusters are not common and Thai speakers add a vowel sound to make it ‘easier’ to pronounce.
1 ‘gu gud good Thai students tend to omit the last /d/ and /s/ sound.
2 pɜː’fekt ‘pɜːfekt perfect In Thai, stress is usually put on the last syllable.
3 we’peɪ wel’peɪd well-paid In Thai, apart from omitting the last consonant sound, Thai tend to omit /l/, /r/ sounds.

When it comes to grammar, it is possible to consider the following piece:

  1. I start learn English two years ago.
  2. I not want bad job
  3. for I need help my family.

As seen from table 2, the major reason is interference and lack of knowledge. The student was speaking rather slowly and with numerous mistakes in pronunciation and stress. It is noteworthy that the student was a bit nervous.

Table 2

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Speaking: Spoken Grammar and lexis analysis

Line Type of error Error Correction Analysis
1 Subject-verb agreement I start learnEnglish two years ago. I startedtolearn English two years ago. In Thai, there are no tense suffixes as tense is clear from the context with the help of modifiers of time (two years ago). More so, Thai students often omit the last consonant d, s. Furthermore, tois omitted as there is no such particle between verbs in Thai.
2 The use of negations, missing article I notwant badjob I don’t want abad job. In Thai, negation is made with the help of a word and no auxiliaries are used. In Thai there are no articles, and it is difficult for students to use them correctly.
3 The use of modal verbs I need help my family. I need tohelp my family. In Thai, there is no particle toand there is nothing between two verbs.


As for writing, it is possible to take a closer look at the following extract from the student’s writing:

  1. I preffer going to cinema.
  2. I likemoviesabout super hero. I like Batman, Ironman, Spiderman.
  3. My favorit movie is X men.

Table 3

Writing: Grammar and lexis analysis

Line Type of error Error Correction Analysis/reason for error
1 Spelling preffer prefer The reason is likely to be the lack for morphological knowledge. In Thai, doubling of consonant is not common but students know words where this doubling happens and may use it where it is not required.
2 Grammar: plural nouns super hero super heroes. The reason may be the lack of morphological knowledge as well as interference as in Thai, the last consonant sound is often omitted.
2 Space likemoviesabout like movies about In Thai, there are no spaces between words in writing.
3 Spelling favorit favorite The reason is lack of morphological knowledge.

As seen from table 3, writing is weaker than speaking as there are many errors. Lack of morphological knowledge is major reason for mistakes though there are still traces of interference. Clearly, the student has issues with English spelling as it is very differ from Thai. It is also noteworthy that the student uses simple vocabulary but uses all the words correctly.

The student was asked to write about his hobby. He was supposed to write a letter to his pen friend. The register used was appropriate. However, the use of linking sentences and words was not effective. Handwriting was also good enough as it was readable though there were cases of merging (the student forgot about space between words).

Lesson Plan

Main objective: After this lesson, the student will be able to write words properly, use present and past simple (endings –s and -ed).

Materials used: worksheets (exercises on tenses), board, handout (Past regular, n.d.).

Warm-up (5 min): The teacher greets and asks the following: How are you? Then there is a question on the board: What’s your favorite film/book? The student reads and answers it.

Presentation 1 (10 min): The teacher writes the following words on the board: middle, grass, prefer, spoon, settle, proof, pass, clock plus. The student reads and translates the words. Then he writes them down in an alphabetical order. It is possible to ask him to make up a sentence or two.

Production activity (5 min). After that, (on a separate sheet of paper) the student is welcome to add the doubles as suggested by Clutterbuck (2000):

Add oo (one word is extra as it needs only one o): sp___n, pr___f, cl___ck

Add ss (one word is extra as it needs only one s): pa____, plu____, gra___

Add doubled letters where necessary: mi____le, pre___er, se____le

Presentation 2 (10 min): Using the handout, the teacher discusses the use of past tense with the student. The student makes up sentences. The student uses the same cards to practice present simple (including negative forms).

Production activities (10 min): The student works on exercise on past simple (“Elementary grammar exercise”, 2014). After that, the student works on present simple (“Elementary grammar exercise: Past simple tense”, 2014).

Speaking activity: The teacher talks with the student about things he and his sister/parents did yesterday. He is welcome to ask questions to the teacher.


Lesson Functional / structural objectives Skills objectives Phonological objectives Lexical objectives Rationale
1 To be able to use past simple tense (regular verbs). To develop speaking skills to discuss past actions. To pronounce ending –edcorrectly (without omissions). To learn routine verbs. The learner needs to communicate with English speaking people about routine activities
2 To be able to use to with such verbs as need, want, and so on and to express purpose. To develop speaking skills to express cause-effect relationship in events. To use to without stress as Thai students tend to stress all words. To learn verbs of causality. The learner needs to communicate with English speaking people, and this will make the learner’s speech more diverse.


In conclusion, it is possible to note that the student makes spelling and grammar mistakes. The student also has issues with pronunciation. Major reasons for that are interference and lack for morphological knowledge. Clearly, it is important to take into account peculiarities of the Thai language when teaching the student.

Reference List

Bennui, P. (2008). A study of L1 interference in the writing of Thai EFL students. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research, 4(1), 72-102.

Clutterbuck, P. (2000). Blake’s word bank. New York, NY: Blake Education.

Elementary grammar exercise: Past, present and future tenses. (2014). Web.

Elementary grammar exercise: Past simple tense. (2014). Web.

Past regular. (n.d.). Web.

Sersen, W.J. (2011). Improving writing skills of Thai EFL students by recognition of and compensation for factors of L1 to L2 negative transfer. US-China Education Review, 3(1), 339-345.

Smith, B. (2001). Thai speakers. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner English: a teacher’s guide to interference and other problems (pp. 343-357). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Tse, A.Y.H. (2014). A case study of grammatical errors made by Malaysian students. International Journal of Science Commerce and Humanities, 2(5), 154-160.

Watcharapunyawong, S., & Usaha, S. (2013). Thai EFL students’ writing errors in different text types: The interference of the first language. English Language Teaching, 6(1), 67-78.

Table 1

Writing and Speaking Mistakes Analysis

Type of Mistake Mistake Correction Analysis
Subject-verb agreement Everybody havedifferent things. Everybody hasdifferent things. In Thai language there is no subject-verb agreement.
The use of tenses They eatnow. They are eatingnow. In Thai, the verb does not change as the context diminishes any ambiguity.
The use of tenses They eatyesterday. They ateyesterday. In Thai, the verb does not change as the context diminishes any ambiguity.
Omission of auxiliaries He not go. He does not go. In Thai, no auxiliaries are used.
Word order: adjective/noun car good a good car In Thai, adjectives are used after the noun.
Word order: question words He go when? Whendid he go? In Thai, question words can be used at the beginning or at the ending of the sentence.
Word order: the use of negative forms He no go.
He not go.
He does not go. In Thai, the negative is formed with the help of the word mây by adding the word before the noun or verb. Hence, Thai students often confuse not or no as they only have mây in their first language.
Substitution You speak English very good. You speak English very well. In Thai, there is no distinction between adverbs and adjectives.
Substitution of degrees of adjectives I work the most hardof my brothers. I work the hardestof my brothers. In Thai, equivalent of more and the most is used so Thai students often misuse this form.
Omission of the plural suffix –s in nouns I have two brother. I have two brothers. In Thai, the noun does not change as numerical description is used or other words that provide context.
Substitution of pronouns My sister, heis very nice. My sister, sheis very nice In Thai, there is no gender distinction in third person singular pronouns.
Omission of articles He is nice man. He is anice man. In Thai, there are no articles and students fail to use English articles correctly.
Substitution style
There are many English borrowings in Thai, but they have been customized to the Thai language and when speaking English Thai students tend to use the Thai form of the words.
Redundancy a study book
a novel book
a study book
a novel
In Thai, the equivalent to the word book is used to mention a kind of book and when speaking or writing in English this word may seem redundant.
Literal translation of vocabulary I receivethe knowledge. I getthe knowledge. Thai students tend to misuse words as they resort to literal translation.

Table 2

Writing Mistakes Analysis

Type Mistake Correction Analysis
Consonant substitution hotpital hospital Thai students have difficulty with pronouncing sounds /s/, /z/, /ð/, /θ/ and phonological issues translate into spelling problems.
Inaccurate doubling accross across The mistake is made due to lack of morphological knowledge.

Table 3

Speaking and Reading Mistakes Analysis

Type Mistake Correction Analysis
Consonant clusters substitution fa-rown frown In Thai, consonant clusters are not common and Thai students try to accommodate by adding vowel sounds.
Omission of consonants fee free Omission of sounds is common among Thai speakers and this trend is also transferred to English when Thai students speak English.
Wrong stress but’ter ‘butter In Thai, the stress in polysyllabic words is often put on the last syllable and this trend is often used when Thai students speak English.
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