Vietnamese Students' Problems With English
Aug 7, 2016 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) 1016 Views
A year of teaching English to twelve-years-old children in Vietnam has provided some insight into some of the special areas of difficulty which derive from fundamental differences between their mother tongue, Vietnamese, and the language of the Anglo-Saxons. Language students everywhere have a problem in preventing the structure and tone of their native tongue intruding on their efforts in using the new language, and the problem is magnified when the two languages are so widely separated in every respect.
The Vietnamese language consists of short words that can have as many as eight different meanings depending on the tone of pronunciation. A word can be spelt with the same letters but differences in tone are indicated by diacritical marks placed above and below a vowel. Most words in Vietnamese have only three or four letters and almost none has more than six, so one might expect that the spelling of English words, which are often much longer and with irregular spelling, would present a major challenge. Somewhat surprisingly, this was not a big problem; spelling errors in English writing exercises were fewer than expected.
The declination and tenses of English verbs present many difficulties. Vietnamese verbs do not decline and neither do they change with tense. Past, future and continuous tenses are simply indicated by an additional word before the verb. So for the Vietnamese student, the learning of English verbs is an area of great complexity. Not only are there more tenses used in everyday speech and writing, but many verbs are irregular and must be mastered individually. The students were found to have been thoroughly prepared by their native school teachers, and could recite or write the verbs in tables, but using them correctly in free speech or writing was a much bigger challenge. Errors in verbs, either from person or tense, were amongst the most common mistakes made in writing exercises.
In Vietnamese, plurals are indicated by a word preceding the noun, whereas in English plurals are mostly indicated by an 's' added to the end of the noun. Although the rule is different, it is simple and almost universal. One might expect it to present little difficulty, but in practice it was found to be a second major source of error in written English. The error was often related to a pronoun (it/they), referring to the noun, or to a verb (is/are, has/have) which changes between the singular and the plural. Often there was difficulty in maintaining singularity or plurality throughout a sentence. Students also tended not to hear the 's' on plural nouns and singular verbs in dictation (e.g. He likes all his friends), and sometimes an exercise of 100 words contained just this one error.
Foreign English teachers in Vietnam will be told by their students that they 'very like' the lessons. The experience is both stimulating and rewarding. It is hoped that these few notes will be of interest to those intending to follow in this path.