Chris Wright on Being a Bicultural Teacher in Thailand
What’s in an icon? As part of Thailand NOW’s mission to share authentic insights into all things Thai, we’re spotlighting iconic individuals who have not only excelled in their respective areas, but influenced the complex tapestry of Thailand as it exists today and, in doing so, inspire us to be a part of the fabric of Thai society.
In this Icon NOW interview, the multi-talented Christopher Wright opens up about his bicultural upbringing and his mindset towards teaching English in Thailand.
Born to an English father and Thai mother, Chris grew up in a household where culture shock was a daily occurrence.
“There was one time I had to walk past my Thai grandparents who were sitting on the sofa,” he recalled. “They told me, ‘Don’t forget when you walk past older people, you’ll have to bow and walk past them to show respect.’”
A few months later, his English grandparents were visiting, and Chris remembered to bow low around them. To his confusion, they asked if he was suffering from some sort of backache.
Nonetheless, his parents, being English and Thai teachers themselves, were determined to raise someone fluent in both languages. While some say that to speak a language, you have to think in that language, Chris’s parents believed otherwise.
“My parents taught me to have one image and two languages or one emotion and two languages. That means when we speak the language, we don’t think in a language, but we think in images and we feel with emotions,” he explains.
Since then, Chris has advocated this kind of fundamental visual mindset across all his language-learning content.
Christopher “Chris” Wright is known as a bilingual English teacher, media personality, and motivational speaker.
Though being bilingual is an asset to any English teacher in Thailand, it was far from certain that he’d follow in his parents’ footsteps.
“When I was young, I never thought I would pursue this career, because I thought, from seeing my parents, that maybe being a teacher was not a fun job to do.”
That is, until the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. With the Thai economy in free fall, his father’s English school was heading for bankruptcy and most of the staff had to be let go.
Reluctantly, Chris stepped into the role to put food on the table for his family. However, he found that teaching fit him like a glove.
“After just a few months, I discovered that this is one job that I could do well, and that I would like to do as well. After that, I’ve been doing it for over 20 years.”
“…everything around me could be a language lesson.”
With 20 years as a multi-hyphenate bilingual teacher under his belt, Chris has come to a few conclusions about the state of English language learning in Thailand.
“In Thailand, a lot of people have been learning English for years, but they can’t really speak or master the language yet, because they took the academic way, which is grammar, phonetics, or the theories,” Chris asserts.
His parents, on the other hand, took a different approach. They decided against emphasizing language theory and, instead, encouraged Chris to learn from the entertainment around him.
“Movies, TV shows, songs, comics, newspapers, signs, conversations with people…basically, everything around me could be a language lesson.”
Aside from his parents, Chris also credits one of his French teachers for his approach to language learning. Nevertheless, his road to French fluency had its fair share of dead ends.
First, he tried a by-the-books academic teacher, in which he admittedly struggled with the grammar. Then, he tried an immersive approach where the teacher only spoke French, which didn’t work for him either.
Eventually, he was fortunate enough to meet a French teacher that used entirely different methods.
“She would speak in English and French mixed together, and she taught us from a lot of activities and games, as well as entertainment media,” he says, adding, “[she] truly changed my perception toward French and really got me wanting to learn.”
These experiences—from his bilingual upbringing to his engaging French lessons—have informed his teaching methods, which he terms “interactive bilingual edutainment (IBE).” As an extension of IBE, Chris has produced books, comics, television programs, motivational speeches, comedy sketches, and stand-up routines.
“Chris Delivery,” for example, uses Thai people’s love of variety television to teach English through sketch comedy, often depicting the misadventures of Thais navigating the language.
To the renowned English instructor, entertainment helps people feel that “English does not have to be learned only from the book in the class just to pass the exam.”
Perhaps Chris’s ability to create relatable content is part of what’s taken him so far in his unique overlap of Thai entertainment and English-language education.
“At the end of the day, the teacher needs to put themselves in the student’s shoes,” he summarizes.
“…the three E’s of being a good teacher.”
According to Chris, a teacher must be able to educate their students in an entertaining way and encourage their pupils, so they want to learn and improve, forming what he calls “the three E’s of being a good teacher.”
What’s more, he believes these three E’s have broader applications that can allow people to thrive in any number of leadership roles: teacher, trainer, employer, and even as parents.
From adopting a visual mindset to IBE to the three E’s, Chris has adapted these philosophies for teaching and learning to help his students, their families, and businesses. According to Chris, it’s been rewarding for him to work with people from different walks of life and help them to find success.
Chris’s career has been unique to say the least. More than a teacher, he’s been a pioneer of a different approach to the way English was being taught in Thailand, and his content continues to help Thais take ownership of their second language.