Teaching English in VN: requirements and other information
Video source: Alex Stevenson
Video source: Alex Stevenson
Stephen Coyle, an IELTS instructor for the Reliable English School (RES), didn’t just see the dawn of technology in the classroom—he heard it. “When I first started teaching [in Vietnam] 14 years ago, the noise level in the classroom was incredible; people were shouting, talking, laughing. Now, during the break, it’s completely silent. Everyone is just looking at their phones.”
Image source: citypassguide.com
The heavy reliance on digital devices in Vietnam has come swiftly: over 35 million people use Facebook regularly in the country, and an estimated 32.43 million will have a smartphone in 2018.
The use of technology has irreversibly changed the way we look at the world and have become social, but in HCMC, will it change the way our kids learn as well?
Thomas Galvez, Saigon South International School’s Technology Learning Coach, acknowledged that technology can have detrimental effects on a child’s socialisation, but averred that it it’s all about balance. “It’s not about weaning them off [of smartphones],” he said. “It’s about teaching them the appropriate times to use it, and to understand the effects.”
With separate technology coaches for the elementary, middle and high schools and an overall ICT Director in the administration department, it’s safe to say that SSIS takes the role of technology in the classroom seriously. Earlier this year, SSIS became the first Apple Distinguished School in the country, a distinction both prestigious and rather nebulous.
Image source: citypassguide.com
At the moment 400 schools spread across 29 countries are Apple Distinguished Schools. To hold this coveted title, Galvez said it wasn’t so much having Apple products (although SSIS is a completely Mac-driven institution and requires all parents to purchase a personal MacBook for their child when they enter the 4th grade), but rather promoting an innovative approach to learning. Finding ways to do this is Galvez’s bread and butter.
Although he acknowledged that it’s impossible to keep up with all the technological trends, he keeps current through an active world-wide professional learning network with other technology coaches. “Twitter is a great medium for this,” he said.
Once he discovers something he thinks might make learning more efficient, or connect kids in a deeper way, he meets with teachers to discuss how the program can be integrated into their lesson. For a language class, he said that SoundCloud is often useful, which allows teachers to comment in different places on a student’s audio file. For multimedia collaborations, he might suggest Explain Everything, an interactive whiteboard app that lets students create visual presentations in the cloud, so students and the teacher can interact as it’s created.
“That’s the great thing about these cloud-based tools,” he said. “They provide asynchronous capacities that students and teachers can access to provide feedback and learn anytime, anywhere.”
The emphasis on creativity and multimedia emphasised by Mac products is widely believed to help prepare students for future careers, many of which will require teamwork, collaboration and thinking outside of the box. However, as Rob van Driesum, a parent of an SSIS child (and, full disclosure, the freelance copy-editor of #iAMHCMC) points out, “Not all kids will end up working in multimedia. They’ll need skills in Windows-based Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and so on.”
The debate about technology’s role in the classroom has been raging for over a decade, since the concept of One-to-One learning was first propagated in the late 1990s. By providing students with personal learning devices, from which they could read digital textbooks and complete assignments, many claimed that the learning process could be more efficient and streamlined.
Image source: citypassguide.com
Subsequent studies have suggested that digital learning isn’t the silver bullet some first believed it was, and some schools have tempered their expectations, or at least begun to view technology as a tool rather than an end in itself.
Thomas Galvez at SSIS mirrors these thoughts. “The whole focus of this job is really not technology,” he said. “Learning is always going to be at the centre of schools.”
He paused for a moment, and then continued: “A good teacher is a good teacher. And to be a good teacher, you don’t necessarily need technology. Really, it’s about relationships.”
Banner Image source: enews.ssis.edu.vn
It’s a “flop”, Tuoi Tre called it in a headline, or a “failure” according to another headline in VNExpress. In 2016, it was described as “unrealistic” by Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha.
They’re talking about Vietnam’s National Foreign Language Project—or, as it’s more commonly known, Project 2020—the education initiative meant to bring all of Vietnam’s high school students to an intermediate level of English by graduation. Less than 20 percent of students have reached this level.
Project 2020 dates back to 2008. It was proposed as an ambitious plan with one central goal: “by the year 2020 most Vietnamese youth whoever graduate from vocational schools, colleges and universities gain the capacity to use a foreign language independently,” according to the official language of the initiative “Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages in the National Education System, Period 2008 to 2020”.
But in 2016, Nha addressed a collection of government heads and education officials warning that the project still had a long way to go in its four remaining years.
An article in Tuoi Tre stated that some Vietnamese teachers had cut corners on the testing required by Project 2020, or opted to learn at centres that had developed a reputation for slack grading. Nha announced in the meeting that teachers would be retrained and the number of authorised centres that could provide these English teaching credentials would be narrowed down.
Image source: ciforschools.files.wordpress.com
That year about half of English teachers in Vietnam were reportedly substandard according to the requirements of Project 2020.
While the project’s core goals centre around English proficiency, in 2016 many students were still lacking access to regular English language curriculum. Around 20 percent of elementary school students were receiving four periods of English a week. The goal is to have 100 percent of third-grade students following a 10-year English language program by 2020.
Image source: image.thanhnien.vn
At that point, the project had a VND10 trillion (US$446.43 million) budget.
Thai Nguyen University built a basic communication English language capacity into their graduation requirements. As a result, 2,000 students failed to graduate on time at the Thai Nguyen city university. The delayed students gave the university heat. As a result, the school lowered the language standard.
Research shows students may need up to 400 hours of training to move up one rung in the CEFR ladder. Thai Nguyen University lowered their standards in part because their undergraduate curriculum only included 100 hours of English training, Professor Dang Van Minh explained to Tuoi Tre in January.
Students have criticized Project 2020 for placing too much emphasis on grammar training and not providing enough opportunities to practice listening and speaking. “Two English lessons per week and too many students in a class do not allow us to practice,” Saigon University student Nguyen Minh Tri told Tuoi Tre.
The project appears to come at least in part from the extreme interest Vietnamese have in the English language. In 2014, researcher and author Christopher Candlin described the country’s zest to become anglophile an “English fever” in his English language teaching review “Language and Development: Teachers in a Changing World”. Sending school children to English language centres early to get them an early head start on their language acquisition is almost de rigor for Vietnamese families.
Image source: idt.edu.vn
In spite of the pronounced shortcomings of the 2020 Project, English language advocates are building new educational initiatives around it, such as the HCMC-based plan to begin English language learning in the first grade starting in the 2018 academic year. In the current academic year, 91 percent of students in the city have begun English classes since the first grade.
Nevertheless, Saigon’s Department of Education and Training Head of Primary Education Nguyen Quang Vinh complained that the quality of the teachers was inconsistent and said his department would begin making sure foreign language centres are integrated into every school’s activity.
Vinh noted that the schools still had difficulties filling their foreign teacher vacancies because of inadequate salary offers. During the 2017 academic year, the school officials recruited 1,797 teachers, who filled 70 percent of the available foreign teacher slots.
Only 40 percent of the recruited teachers meet the Ministry of Education training standards.
Over parents’ objections, Saigon will slowly phase out foreign teachers in city schools over the next few years.
By 2020, the city plans to train 400 Vietnamese teachers to replace their foreign counterparts, according to reporting by the Vietnam News Agency. There are currently 100 primary school teachers undergoing a four-phase training program required to pass an assessment crafted by UK’s Pearson Education, the program administrator. Over 300 teachers applied to be part of the program.
Parents angrily commented that their students would have limited or no interaction with native English speakers.
Do Minh Hoang, an official with HCMC’s Department of Education and Training, said the Vietnamese teachers would be able to deliver similar or better results compared to the current foreign teachers. Education officials responded, noting that fees would be reduced when the switch to Vietnamese English teachers is complete.
Thuong Nguyen, a researcher with National Chengchi University in Taiwan, presented an analysis suggesting the project was not a doomed to failure. In a paper titled “Vietnam’s National Foreign Language 2020 Project after 9 years: A Difficult Stage”, Nguyen argued that simple changes like updating teaching methods from basic “teacher asks, students respond” routines and introducing new curriculum could prove fruitful in changing the narrative around Project 2020. Nguyen’s research involved observations of several Ho Chi Minh City high schools, a handful of which are currently meeting the foreign language initiative’s target goals.
Banner Image source: tailieuielts.net
In 2016 when Tran Anh Tuan, deputy director for the Ministry of Education and Training, addressed the dearth of foreign students studying in Vietnamese schools, he candidly stated that it indicated a failure of presence for his nation in a global landscape.
“This shows that Vietnam’s education still has not integrated into the world,” Tran said in remarks reported by VietnamNet.
At the time, there were reportedly 2,000 foreign students studying in Vietnam’s schools, a number far out of balance with the the over 100,000 Vietnamese students studying outside of the country. A rector of FPT University called the situation “a trade gap in education”.
Image source: headinthesandblog.org
When Timo Schmid, a Dutch media and communications student, was asked what was bad about his study abroad experience, Schmid responded over instant message “No negative experiences! I didn’t even get food poisoning or anything.”
Schmid recently returned to Holland where he studies at Hogeschool van Amsterdam after four months studying in Ho Chi Minh City thanks to his university’s partnership with Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
While he said Saigon could have been cleaner — “a lot of litter around the city … I think people should be more careful and cleaner with the environment”—he rates his experience as overall very positive.
“I got to learn a new culture and new people, which made me realise that the world has so much more to offer than the things I have in the Netherlands. When you don’t travel you don’t learn other cultures and meanings”.
Schmid had been in Vietnam two years before he came as a student. “I liked it so much that I wanted to go back so this was a great opportunity for me”, Schmid said.
A European encountering Vietnam in an academic context might encounter a place defined by apparent contradictions. According to Schmid’s account of his experience, while the grounds of RMIT are very modern and state of the art, the world it lives in is radically different from the type of environment a prospective Western student might be familiar with.
The study abroad experience in Vietnam is “for people who want to a part of the world that’s completely different than their own,” Schmid said. "It’s actually quite adventurous"…
Those who want to have what Schmid calls a “super comfortable life” may want to look elsewhere for their study abroad experience.
“But for me this was the best decision to make,” he said.
The effort to recruit inbound foreign students began in earnest in 2011 when Vietnam eased it’s university enrollment requirements and demanded that more coursework be available in English. Additionally, education officials called on more foreign researchers to conduct their work in Vietnam.
Image source: studentexchange.vn
The initiative appears to have at least partially worked. In 2011, education officials estimated approximately 500 students enrolling in Vietnamese universities, however,the precise figure is unknown because at this time the government didn’t keep official data on these statistics.
In 2015, Tuoi Tre News reported over 1,100 international students currently in Vietnam doing academic work. The government had begun compiling official data on the 23 universities that were running exchange programs with international partners. At that point, the greatest sources of incoming foreign students were from schools in the European Union and North America.
Noting the uptick, education officials credited the decision to offer English curriculums.
“One important reason for the surge is that many universities have offered advanced training programs taught entirely in English, which helps international students find it more favorable to choose the Southeast Asian country as their academic destination,” Deputy Minister Ga told Tuoi Tre News in remarks reported in 2015.
Still, with 2,000 inbound foreign students, the number continues to be far out of balance with the 130,000 Vietnamese students studying abroad, according to Vietnamese governmental data.
Image source: image.freepik.com
Minor gains are being realized. In the academic year ending in 2017, the number of U.S. students studying in Vietnam reached 1,012, a modest increase from the 922 students that had come to study in the year prior.
In the academic year ending in 2017, 325,229 U.S. students studied abroad. About 11 percent of them chose an Asian country as their destination, according to a 2017 study by international scholastic activity research organization Open Doors.
The additional steps universities might take to tackle the “trade gap in education” aren’t obvious, but maybe one area to focus on is updating the image of Vietnam for foreigners who’ve never been there. For example, Killroy, a study abroad and travel service company, notes in its listing for RMIT that Vietnam is a safe destination despite a perception that the security situation hasn’t settled from the American War nearly 40 years ago.
Similarly, Schmid said his experience studying in Ho Chi Minh City surprised him in notable ways, such as how modern RMIT’s facilities were and how kind the Vietnamese people were toward him.
Schmid said his changed impression of the city left him with a love for Vietnam and a strong desire to return.
“I really wanna come back!” he said. “Vietnamese people are lovely and super friendly, I hope they will always stay like that!”
Video source: KILROY
Banner Image source: rmit.edu.vn
When Vietnamese doctor Duong Quang Trung traveled to France to be trained in advanced medicine in the 1990s—one of the first of what would become thousands of French-trained Vietnamese doctors—he forged a strong rapport with a French doctor Alain Carpentier and was struck with a bold idea.
Why not bring Carpentier directly to Vietnam?
The partnership had already yielded tremendous results. According to French Consul General Vincent Floriani, in the past few years alone nearly 3,000 Vietnamese doctors have completed the French physician training but this reverse exchange would create a valuable new health asset in Vietnam. The two physicians partnered to created The Heart Institute in 1992, a medical organization that offers cardiac surgery services with support from France’s national health system. To date, it’s been a critical resource for over 4,300 young patients, many of them impoverished.
Video source: Emmanuel Hubert
“These sorts of initiatives are great”, Floriani said discussing the Heart Institute. The French state’s position is that there ought to be more of these types of projects. Consequently, Floriani said he sees his role, as the lead representative for France’s presence in Saigon, as one of finding and brokering new partnerships. “The job of the diplomat is to prepare the ground to make that possible”.
Nearly six centuries have passed since France ruled Vietnam as a colonial power, but the European state remains actively involved in a wealth of initiatives in Vietnam, including education and language acquisition on top of healthcare.
From supporting local schools to cooperating with French education organizations in Ho Chi Minh City, the French government has remained an active part of Vietnam’s growth.
Today, there are 13,000 pupils who are studying in schools teaching French curriculums, from the doctoral level all the way down to preschool. These schools report to a governmental body that ensures compliance with French education standards.
There are a total of five primary schools that currently offer this type of French education. Two secondary schools, Lycee Francais International Marguerite Duras in Ho Chi Minh City and Lycee Francais Yersin, are offering pupils the chance to continue their education in an educational environment that accords with French education standards. And these schools “are about a third of what [students] would pay at other international schools,” Floriani said.
Image source: greenshoots.edu.vn
Floriani said the overwhelming number of students in schools offering French education are expatriates—the French national population in Vietnam has steadily grown by between 15 and 20 percent the last few years—but “it’s something I want to improve,” he said.
In the Saigon high school, around 15 percent of the student body is Vietnamese, Floriani said. In Hanoi, he said about 40 percent of the students are part of the local population. Floriani said bringing more Vietnamese representation in to the student bodies of both would increase cultural exchange and enhance the relationship France has with an important partners.
France’s continued involvement has at times put it at odds with another prominent partner: the U.S.
The relationship was chronicled in depth by Henrich Dahm, a researcher for the Institute of Asian Affairs, in his book “French and Japanese Economic Relations with Vietnam Since 1975”.
After the end of the American War in Vietnam in 1975, the U.S. and Vietnam maintained no economic relations. A trade embargo created in 1964 on all trade activities was extended until Bill Clinton took the office of U.S. president. Citing Hanoi’s help in locating military personnel that were still missing in action, he ordered the lifting of the trade embargo in 1994. Yet vestiges of the embargo remained through the current era. It was only in 2016 that former U.S. president Barack Obama lifted the ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam.
Image source: cdn.cnn.com
Through the freeze and subsequent thaw, a number of countries including France remained active partners with Vietnam in fostering international cooperation.
Even after the invasion of Cambodia when international partners lobbed criticism against Vietnamese leadership in 1975, Dahm writes that France remained committed to keeping the trade and diplomatic relationship active. It used its continued influence to bring an end to fighting between Cambodia factions and Vietnamese forces through an accord signed in Paris in 1989.
Long before Clinton chose to lift the U.S. trade embargo, France had been advocating for the integration of Vietnam into the global financial community. The U.S. consistently blocked France in their efforts at the International Monetary Fund, voting against measures that would bring economic relief to the region like refinancing the nation’s debt.
With Clinton’s decision to lift the trade embargo, France was able to move forward leading a plan to refinance the nation’s US$140 million debt. France led an 11-nation group that repaid about half the loan in Vietnam’s stead and won the country a loan with better terms.
According to Dahm, French aid to Vietnam has made it a top donor with aid concentrated in education, cultural enrichment, communication, water supply, sanitation, transportation, energy, economic management and human resources to name a few critical resources..
In 1993 when the doctor training program was conceived, French grant aid to Vietnam was about US$44 million, an increase of US$10 million from two years prior and nearly US$30 million from four years prior.
In return for their work, Dahm’s study found that French companies benefit from the aid, which is tied to large purchases of French goods and services. In return, the Vietnamese government has welcomed French companies seeking support for business deals in the country.
The work building connections continues today. In March, the French education ministry kicked off a five-day intensive French language course in Ho Chi Minh City for adult students. Students attending represented 12 countries in the Asia region.
The event is part of a broader celebration of formal relations between Vietnam and France. This year marks 45 years since leaders formalized diplomatic cooperation between the two nations.
French assistance in Vietnam has included cultural exports like newspapers and films, as well as language training. In 1994, a cultural appreciation and language program aimed at young Vietnamese students began. It has since worked to develop a fluency in French sufficient to study in the University of Science and Technology in Hanoi, an institution jointly run by Vietnamese and French governments, other university-level programs taught in French or for some students the opportunity to study in France itself.
Image source: dantri4.vcmedia.vn
Currently, some of that work is continuing with the Institut d'Échanges Culturels avec la France (“Institute of Cultural Exchanges with France”), which works with Saigon and Hanoi’s local Vietnamese population to foster French cultural awareness and train them in the language. One of the necessities for French citizenship is a minimum French language requirement. When the French Consulate is approached by Vietnamese interested in getting French citizenship or seeking to study in France but lacking the language requirement, Floriani said he directs them to the Institute.
The French state has also for years cultivated a presence in Vietnam. The partnership has yielded dividends for not only the country itself, but also neighboring nations.
In 1993, a formal partnership between France and Vietnam was created to bring working Vietnamese doctors to France to specialize in a range of disciplines including surgery, pediatrics and anesthesiology. Floriani said some of the French-trained Vietnamese doctors went on to work with Cambodian doctors to share their skills with their regional neighbor.
Image source: med.wisc.edu
“Vietnamese have this expertise to be able to provide training,” Floriani said.
The work the French have done in Vietnam “helps … promote cooperation,” Floriani said. That’s why he sees his mission in part as increasing participation from both parties, more Vietnamese students in the French schools, greater numbers of Vietnamese students studying in France.
“Basically, this is the job of any diplomat. Their job is to reinforce the links,” Floriani said.
Banner Image source: cms.tuoitrethudo.com.vn
Learning another language is not easy and English is a difficult language to learn as it is a mixture of many different languages. Vietnamese learners can have a hard time trying to learn it as there are not many similarities between the two languages.
The English education in Vietnam to date has not had very good results and important skills like listening, reading and writing do not receive enough attention. Here are five reasons why learning English is problematic for Vietnamese students.
When teaching English, a teacher has to pay close attention to every student and this can be difficult when dealing with a large class. Thirty or more students make it almost impossible. Evaluating how they pronounce certain words or manage to communicate is a challenge.
There are not enough English teachers in Vietnam and many of them are unqualified to provide the type of support students need when they study English. Even if the education system embraces teaching conversational English as well as grammar,
Vietnamese teachers often have difficulty pronouncing English words themselves and students are likely to imitate them and learn bad habits. This might affect their student lives when they go for education abroad, especially to an English speaking country.
Students from Vietnam and other non-English speaking countries have a great option in the form of EduBirdie to manage their academic assignments but they should keep trying to learn the art on their own. Mastering English and academic writing support for thesis, dissertation, essays, etc., from professional writers online ensure great success in college or university.
Vietnamese is a tonal language and students battle to speak English with the correct intonation and rhythms. This is why when Vietnamese students speak English, it can often be unintelligible to native English speakers.
They imitate the tonal patterns of their own language and will pause unnecessarily between words or split sentences. The rhythm and flow present when native English speakers speak the language is missing and it sounds monosyllabic.
The only way to learn a language is to practice speaking it. Vietnamese students may learn English at school and even score good marks in tests but when it comes to speaking it, they lack confidence. They are worried about how they will sound and afraid of making mistakes when they speak it.
Listening, reading, speaking and writing are four of the basic skills they need to master and practice in these areas is essential. Writing essays helps them to practice their grammar and sentence structure but they also need to be confident enough to converse with English speakers.
English is spoken in many countries of the world and the people in these countries may pronounce the same word in several different ways. This can be very confusing to Vietnamese students when they are trying to speak English.
Whether they are at school or in college, the different versions of English can be hard for them to understand because there is not a vast difference in the pronunciation of words within the three regions of Vietnam.
Many words, such as the word “water,” are pronounced very differently by speakers of English in America and in the UK. In fact, people not familiar with English would think they were different words altogether.
In the Vietnamese language, the final consonants of a word are nasal or limited to a voiceless stop. This is why one of the common problems Vietnamese students face when trying to speak English is not pronouncing the end of words.
When it comes to understanding plurals and possessives, this can cause much confusion. A teacher has to help students by demonstrating the correct pronunciation and by drilling students to properly articulate the ends of words.
Vietnamese students encounter many challenges when trying to learn English. It is not easy in schools where classes may be large and the quantity and quality of English teachers may be lacking. The correct pronunciation is one of the major problems. Current teaching methods do not create opportunities for students to converse in English. English education needs to focus not only on grammar but enabling students to communicate effectively in the real world.
Michael Turner works as an admission counselor and helps Asian students choose the best universities across the US and UK. He helps them with college essays, personal statements and interview preparation material. In his free time, he watches live sports, tries DIY woodworking and shooting funny videos for his vlog.