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My essay briefly examines possible reasons why Vietnamese have problems learning English. I prefer to view them as challenges rather than problems, the latter having a negative connotation. I also want to stress this is my opinion based on my personal experience. By way of background, I was born and grew up in rural Vietnam immediately after the Vietnam War. My high school had no glass in the windows and only doorways but no doors. There was no paper and no writing materials. Class size was small in secondary school as most kids didn’t attend. Instead they had to work to support their families. At the age of 16 I graduated high school and relocated to Ha Noi to attend university where I graduated with a B Ec. I then worked for a number of years before going back to university to do a teaching degree in English. I left the course after two years following the birth of my son. I didn't complete it. I didn’t speak or think about English from that point until my son started to learn English in grade 1 at primary school and I started helping him with his homework. Soon after that I set up a restaurant in Hoan Kiem District (the “Old Quarter”). It is a mecca for tourists, who at that time, were mostly Westerners. It was then that I started speaking English again. My vocabulary was very small at the beginning, however it expanded quickly. My pronunciation improved slowly over a long period of time, until it stopped improving. My English is “English spoken with a Vietnamese tongue”. From that point, the English language steadily permeated every corner of our apartment, thanks mainly to social media, pay TV, streaming services and You Tube. Technology has had negative consequences for our family (we don’t talk or spend time together as much), however thanks to my iPad I have fallen in love with reading once more . This time in English. The challenges Vietnamese face in learning English are both structural and linguistic. The major structural problems include: The quality of education in the government school system. The quality of education across the curriculum has been poor. Outdated, under resourced, poor teaching methods, over-crowding, etc. This is improving gradually but it will be the next generation after my son who benefit. By way of illustration: o My son is one a 46 in his class (35 of them are boys). Classrooms are built to accommodate 25 students. There is a large variation in motivation and learning ability across the student group. English teachers are Vietnamese, who have been taught by Vietnamese at university. Their spoken English is average (they only speak English in class and even then only rarely). The emphasis is on reading comprehension for the purpose of passing national testing (as this is the basis on which English teacher performance is assessed i.e. pass rate of their students). They also frequently don’t understand the vagaries of the English language and mark answers as incorrect (for example, “they were too close to the cupboard to close it”). Because of social media, children like my son are almost (self- taught) native English language speakers and are way ahead of their teacher in all four skills (Listening – Speaking – Reading – Writing). Apparently, my son speaks English with an Australian accent! The best English-speaking people get high paid jobs in business and industry leaving those less competent to teach in schools. Low or unqualified teachers (both Vietnamese and Western) are teaching English because demand is greater than supply. For example, a Hungarian man in our apartment block is teaching English here in Ha Noi. Having spoken to him a number of times, I can only say his English language competency is very basic and his pronunciation is worse than mine! Textbooks contain too many errors and the content is mismatched to the level of students. My son frequently points out errors, which are both grammatical as well as spelling. My son is in year 8 and his current English text book covers material from year 6 to year 9. The cost of private tuition is high and only available in major cities. Only a small percentage of families can afford private tuition and “English centers” are only in major cities. Opportunities to practice English (speaking and listening) are limited. Everybody reverts to tieng Viet because it is easier and more effective. The number of long-term English-speaking foreigners is relatively small, so the possibility of meeting them is very small. Those who are motivated convene most evenings around Hoan Kiem Lake where you see small groups of young Vietnamese university students (and more recently school age children) approaching tourists hoping to persuade them to stop and speak English with them. Too much drilling, not enough creative speaking and writing. Vietnamese schools focus on rote learning across all subjects including English. For example students are drilled so they can repeat tables containing verb tenses perfectly. However, most of them can’t use verb tenses correctly when faced with creative writing or free speech. Some of the linguistic challenges Vietnamese face when learning English include: The tense structure is different in English compared to tieng Viet. Vietnamese verbs seldom change tense. There are only four tenses used – present simple, past simple, future simple and present continuous. Instead, the past, future and continuous tenses are indicated by and additional word before the verb. For example, for the past perfect tense, time indicators such as ‘before’ or ‘after’ are used in the sentence instead of changing the verb tense. Vietnamese students therefore have to learn more tenses and a different sentence structure when learning English. Then there are irregular and phrasal verbs to master (which are my private nightmare). English words comprise multiple consonants. tieng Viet comprises short words and there is only one consonant in each word. Compare that with English where there are usually two or more consonants in a single word. Typically, Vietnamese when speaking English only say one consonant when speaking. So ‘school’, for example, becomes ‘hool’. Even more difficult is when a word ends in a consonant, for example stake. I should know, I do it frequently (my son says it’s embarrassing listening to me speak English and he is forever correcting me, and that’s after he has teased me!) The tone of the languages is different. Spoken English goes up and down (refer Unit 13, intonation), whereas tieng Viet is spoken more or less with a flat tone with every word receiving the same emphasis and therefore the same amount of time. As a result when Vietnamese speak English they do so the Vietnamese ‘way’ and they tend to join together words in a sentence and in some cases for the words themselves to change in pronunciation (because of lack of emphasis and shortened time saying the word) making it difficult / impossible to understand. Pronunciation is different. Different mouth shape and different placement of the tongue. It is an articulation problem (refer to Unit 13). Most Vietnamese find it difficult to say a number of sounds correctly in English. I think it is usually caused by the incorrect placement of the tongue. The plural is different. In English plurals are usually formed by using an ‘s’ at the end of the noun. Not so in tieng Viet where a word preceding the noun is used to indicate it is plural. I make this error frequently when speaking (not writing surprisingly). Thank you Nguyen Ngoc Huong