Vietnamese English Learners Learning without Leaving Home

Education - Vietnam: July 16, 2018

English is the third most widely-spoken language in the world, with about 360 million native speakers and with another half billion speaking it as a second language. However, its rising dominance as a second language in southeast Asian countries, especially Vietnam, is evident with the number of learning centres popping up across the country.

Vietnamese schools do provide English courses, taught by certified teachers. However, the focus is typically on the basics and often cannot establish fluency earned by practise that goes beyond class time.

Students who are genuinely interested in improving their language skills can continue their learning by watching English movies and television series, YouTube tutorials or by studying lyrics in English songs. Another option for students, with their parents’ financial support, is to enroll in language centres that can be found around the country.

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One such student is Bella Nguyen, 26, a fashion entrepreneur who picked up the language by watching plenty of English movies, socialising with more English-speaking people, including foreigners and also relied on resources online such as YouTube.

“There are many online tutorials on YouTube and Facebook that I follow. I also improved my vocabulary by watching BBC news programmes and talking to customers in English,” she said.

None of these options required her to fork over any cash, though the reliability of these methods is questionable. For example, she noted that part of this learning process involved additional work such as cross-referencing with words with a dictionary. Also, even though she could pronounce the words correctly, she was still unsure of which context the words could be used for, something which took quite a while to master.

However in the past few years, there have been new virtual alternatives that allow students to learn and practise the language in a more structured setting without needing to leave their homes, or even spend any money.

Duolingo is a free programme well known around the world for its innovative language courses.

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Its English lessons are wildly popular among the Vietnamese. There are currently 8.93 million students subscribed to their “English for Vietnamese Speakers” course.

With a learning tree structure, the programme teaches students the basic fundamentals of the language and provides tests which allow the student to progress to the next stage. It’s mobile app is popular among language learners.

However, the biggest drawbacks to the app is that it’s fully automated, right down to the lack of a human voice which may deter some learners. Duolingo’s model emphasises vocabulary but because of the complexities of the language, some students find it challenging to master grammar.

However, thanks to advances in communication technology such as livestreaming and Voice over IP (VoIP)—the technology behind Skye’s internet phone calls—a new model started to emerge in the past decade: online learning centres with actual teachers providing courses remotely that are similar to what can be found in colleges and universities.

Known as a massive open online course, or MOOC, these online courses provide options for various subjects and technical skills usually at college level. Some are taught by professors from renowned universities like Harvard. Certified English teachers teach the language lessons. These courses are usually free and provide students with the flexibility to attend classes whenever they like, from the comfort of their own homes.

Some popular MOOC sites include Alison, Udemy, Canvas Network, Coursera and MOOEC, which stands for Massive Open Online English Course.

Douglas, 30, a Canadian citizen who moved to Vietnam two years ago, teaches online from the comfort of his home to students learning online. He spends a few hours each day conducting English lessons for students in various countries from his apartment in Saigon. “It’s convenient for me because I have plenty of freedom to plan my schedule and the salary is competitive,” he said.

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“It works just like an actual language school, there is a lesson plan that I follow and often, I have students who understand the lessons but have problems with pronunciation or finding the right words to use in a given context and this is where I provide additional help. In most cases, the students get it”, he added.

We spoke to one student learning English online, Trang Min. The 24-year-old beautician started learning English so she could serve foreign customers

“Learning English online allowed me to attend classes whenever I was free in the midst of my busy schedule. One of the biggest benefits of this was besides the low cost, was the convenience of not having to leave my home. All I needed was an internet connection”, she said.

After completing two courses, I could feel my confidence grow and I was able to carry out entire conversations in English with strangers.”

According to Douglas, interest in learning the language has increased over the years, mainly because of the realisation by English learners that their chances of getting a better paying job outside the country decrease without a strong knowledge of the language.

With an increasing number of students learning English online through the use of MOOC platforms, as well as resources available on popular platforms like YouTube and even Facebook, Vietnam’s future generations may be able to master the English language, and teachers will be able to teach them from anywhere in the world with neither of them even needing to leave their homes.

Video source: dave cormier

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