Vietnam Embraces English Classes – and Looks for Communicative English Teachers

My recent trip to Vietnam to meet English teachers and lead a professional development seminar at the American-Pacific University, Vietnam lead to many wonderful moments and a few surprising conversations.

Teaching English in developing countries always poses challenges, and Vietnam falls into that category. Lt me share a few selective details to provide a brief introduction to education atmosphere for English teachers who prefer a communicative approach to grammar drill and kill tasks. Consider the gap between a traditional teacher-centered education philosophy and modern student-centered approaches for teaching English.

– An English language magazine cover story proclaimed: “Let Students Ask Questions.” The two-page article presented the idea of students – even college students – asking classroom questions as an overdue reform.
-Vietnam, the world’s fasting growing economy, has embarked on a rapid expansion of English language classes. The official government ministry of Education and Training has even adopted a new slogan: Friendly School; Active Students. This new slogan presumably indicates that the old approach was something else!
– Several APU high school seniors, in long interviews, indicated that they were forbidden from even talking in their old public high school English classes. These same students informed me that English class in the public high school ranged between 50-70 students. Sometimes the English instructor was believed to be unable to actually speak English. As a result, the class focused extensively on grammar and fill in the blanket tests.
– A few APU students expressed gratitude that they could have actual classroom discussions because this was a new educational experience for them. “We ask questions, and the teacher responds,” laughed one senior. Imagine the possibilities!

These few glimpses into Vietnam’s evolving education system indicate an increasingly awareness that communication skills matter. They also confirm that students, parents, and teachers want better schools and more communicative English language classes.

So let me repeat two favorite themes. Good schools cultivate student curiosity, and English lessons should allow students to display their experiences and perceptions. Further, students who have been forced to take years of English class should be able to speak English – and I literally mean speak English. Conversation skills are not a bonus for excellent students; they remain an essential life skill for international students, entrepreneurs, and immigrants. Therefore, English teachers can and must allow students time and opportunity to develop their speaking skills in class. Why is this still controversial in 2009?

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  1. Eric Dierker

    Is there room for linquistic philosophy in English, in Vietnam?

    At the turn of the century I was blessed enough to teach marketing in Vietnam, for a private company, now called dotVN. But my passion and BS and Doctorate have always left in me a desire to return and teach, not just a language but the philosophy of the language.

    The very basic and essential development of English skills are enough to simply move language programs along in a linear progression. But I believe that if a social program to foster real learning in a language is to advance into the excitement and hubbub stage that attracts self learners and motivates social integration of a language there must be more.

    We must stimulate the young college participants into enjoying the use of the language. We must transfer it into humor, passion and understanding at a higher level that is too often reserved for more traditionally scientific scholastics.

  2. Erik – We seem to be in total agreement that humor, passion, and pleasure in learning English should become part of the curriculum. Excellent teachers understand this need – but too many English teachers fail to keep these core objectives in mind.

    While I’m not sure if there is enough respect for philosophy of language approach in standard English programs, I hope to develop – probably next summer – a quality TESL program to train EFL teachers at American Pacific University, Vietnam. We will certainly include that perspective. Perhaps you will have a chance to return to Vietnam and teach future English teachers – and English language learners in the future!

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