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For week ended January 10, 1999 Posted 22 Jan 1999
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Mormon Volunteers in Thailand

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Language of love
Deseret News 9Jan99
By Carma Wadley: Deseret News senior writer

Trena Vandenbark and Vicky Burton, two English teachers from the United States, were recently honored at their Thailand school's Loy Krathong Festival. The festival, of Brahmin origin, celebrates the goddess of water at the end of the local rainy season. Candles are lit by moonlight and placed in krathongs, a small lotus-shaped vessel made from banana leaves. Flowers, coins and all your troubles are placed inside and sent off across the water with the belief that it will take your sufferings with it. "No one thought our boats would float," says Burton. "But they did. We felt like the queens of Thailand!"

Burton and Vandenbark are involved in an eighteen month old English language program in Thailand, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With Thailand being 95 percent Buddhist, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been coexisting peacefully with the predominant faith for several years. Several years ago, LDS leaders met with Thai government officials to see if there were any humanitarian needs that the Church could help with. The governor of Bangkok, who is a graduate of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, suggested teaching English.

"English is the "open sesame" in Asia." "There's an extraordinary demand in the business area, explains Amos Jordan, Asia Area administrator for LDS Charities. Phyllis Gunderson has been in Bankok for a year. She has a degree in English from BYU. "It is about as far from English as you can get. So, it's not suprising that many Thais don't speak English easily. They can read it, and write it, but pronunciation is difficult, " Gunderson says. "Of all the languages to be a world language, English is one of the most difficult."

Seventeen teachers are attending the morning English class given at Wat Changlom School. "It's interesting, " says Vandenbark, "but they learn pronunciation through singing better than any other way." Learning about 50 songs, most with an action that goes along with them, makes it easier, Gunderson explains. "They're easier to learn if you can do the actions." A good game of fish goes a long way in teaching basic words. "Do you have an A?" "Yes, I have an A." "I will take your A," they play over and again. "Do you have a pig, or a glass?" "Thank you." "You're welcome."

The nine-week curriculum covers topics such as the alphabet, greetings, body, clothing and family. Verbs, grammar and a re-emphasis of pronunciation comes six weeks into the course. "Fun helps build their self-confidence, says Vandenbark. "This is a pioneer project. A lot of what we do is a leap in the dark. Sometimes we're not sure it's working, and then it all comes together. The Thai teachers are so amazing. They're so professional; they pick it up so fast."

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