Role of Speech in Intellect

Updated 28-Jun-2024

From 2001 to 2009 I was in a PhD program in the US that had, as many do, students from around the world. Included were students from many Asian countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Macau, Thailand, etc.

The mainly western professors always became impatient with these students, in their first few years in the program. These students would not participate fully in the classroom. Essentially, their ability to express themselves in a fully engaged, seminar-style classroom was very limited.

These students were equally as competent in all areas, except they were retarded in their ability to express themselves, in front of teachers and other students. As a Thai colleague once said: "We have been trained to listen well, but not to speak well."

Of course one should be good at both, and perhaps the Western students were not at good at listening as the Asian students, taken as a whole. Nonetheless, the ability and the habit of interacting by speaking (as well as listening) with others in a collegial fashion is a requirement of academic success in the West.

When the need to develop this skill is retarded, true intellectual development and full participation in the world of ideas is retarded. This is not to mention the fact that no single person or group has all the good ideas, and discussion of ideas is the only way to really get a full understanding of them. This is the basic nature of intellectual development.

If Thailand is to reach International standards in education, the skill of speaking, as well as listening, needs to be developed. It doesn't help when a government actively condemns open discussion of ideas. Rather, this kind of policy actively retards the intellectual ability of a people and a nation.