Teaching English in Vietnam
Oct 25, 2015 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) 2563 Views
The Vietnamese take English very seriously. Along with their own language and mathematics, English is accorded the highest priority in primary and secondary schools. Not only is the subject studied in school, but in Hanoi all parents that can afford the fees arrange for their children to receive extra instruction in the evenings and at weekends. Extra lessons taught by the school English teacher are virtually compulsory, as teachers need the opportunity to boost their incomes, but in addition, many parents seek lessons from a native English speaker.
Teaching a class of nine twelve-year-old boys and one girl for more than one hundred lessons spread over a little more than a year was a stimulating and rewarding experience. At first the children seemed to be surprisingly advanced in grammar but they were shy to use English in conversation, speaking reluctantly, hesitantly and quietly. It was decided that the main aim of the classes would be to build confidence in self-expression in speech and writing.
Two boys took to speaking English and gained a degree of fluency fairly quickly but the rest of the class were reluctant to join in activities that involved speech. When playing twenty questions, for example, they tended to feed their questions through the two spokesmen. It was found that the children lacked curiosity and seldom asked questions in class even when they had chosen the topic of the lesson. The challenge became one of trying to create interest in order to stimulate curiosity and the use of English in asking the questions. Success was achieved with one boy who developed a deep interest in insects and was soon asking questions that stretched the entomological knowledge of the teacher.
Written exercises and games were popular, especially crossword puzzles, hidden words and jumbled words. Crossword puzzles called 'codewords', where a few letters are given and the others must be deduced, were more popular than the standard crosswords with written clues. With a little support, the class could solve codeword puzzles taken directly from British newspapers.
More progress was made with writing than speaking. Most of the class were soon writing interesting pieces of more than 100 words of fairly accurate language, and two or three regularly extended their efforts to 200 words or more. The class often chose the topics of the lessons which ranged over geography, history and the sciences as well as some unexpected topics like body language, baby sitting, fire-fighting and first aid.
One boy, not the best writer or speaker, showed a philosophical turn of mind and his writing often shed an unusual light on a topic. In one lesson on mathematics he concluded with these words:
'Learning English is difficult, and it's more difficult learning English in mathematics, but it's very interesting and if you (are) learning English in mathematics now, when you grow up, you will thank these days.'
It is from such golden moments that a teacher gains his reward.