What's the Most Popular Second Language in Vietnam?

By: Molly Headley

From being part of the Chinese kingdom and the French colonial state to its complicated past relationships with the U.S. and Russia, Vietnam has historically been a country crowded with languages. As a result, Vietnamese itself was only recognized as the country’s official tongue in 1945.

Today it is mandatory for all students in Vietnamese schools to follow their studies in Vietnamese but the recent influx of foreign business and tourism has increased the importance of learning other languages as well. The majority of students study English as their first foreign language with French being the reigning second.

The priority of Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is for all students in Vietnamese schools to learn English as their first foreign language, according to Priscille Lasémillante, Attaché for the French language at l'Institut français du Vietnam (French Institute of Vietnam) . Then, when possible, they can learn a second foreign language. Today French is the foreign language the most taught after English, with approximately 40,000 students. 10,000 or fewer students study Japanese and a fraction study Korean, German, Russian and Chinese, Lasémillante said in an interview given in French.

second languageImage source: 4.bp.blogspot.com

From Tradition to Necessity

To understand the country’s dominant languages today, we have to go back to the 1954 Geneva Conference where Vietnam was officially divided through the middle. This rupture informed not only policies but also language. In the North, Chinese and Russian took precedence in the educational system, while in the South, French and English became the preferred languages. However, after reunification, the Southern languages and Chinese plummeted out of favour and it was Russian that connected the country to the rest of the Communist bloc.

Do Huy Thinh, from the Vietnamese TESOL Association, wrote that, “Russian became the dominant language, overshadowing the demands for all others in Vietnam’s early reunification".

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Vietnam found itself with a surplus of Soviet-trained professors and a sudden lack of opportunities for Russian trained students; as a result the language is barely taught in Vietnam today. In 1987, Vietnam introduced Doi Moi , the open door trade policy that brought the country onto the international stage. The resulting explosion of business, tourism and foreign investments launched a need for new languages in Vietnam and English quickly took the lead.

second languageImage source: i.imgur.com

English Arises from the Ashes

The English language was granted special authority in 1994 when the prime minister signed an order requiring government officials to learn foreign languages, with English being the primary focus. Foreign investments and influences from English-speaking countries have further solidified English as the top studied second language in Vietnam. MOET recently attempted to codify language training even more with the federal education agency’s Project 2020 initiative. Launched in 2008, the project’s mission is to advance Vietnamese students’ English to the level necessary for employment, yet as of 2018 Vietnam remains 7th in Asia in English language proficiency.

second languageImage source: marrybaby.vn

Motivation and Mobility

Today Vietnamese parents tend to push their children to study whatever language has the greatest utility.

French remains popular in large part because between 1992 and 2006, French language education in Vietnam was financed by the French government. Numerous scholarships— notably in the sectors of medicine, engineering, and law—still exist to help Vietnamese continue their studies in France, and the only Vietnamese degree recognized internationally is a French-Vietnamese diploma in engineering.

German became another contender for a second language when Goethe-Institut cultural centers were set up in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and student foreign exchanges began to develop. Japanese become a third major player through scholarship schemes intended to help Vietnamese students study at Japanese universities.

Time to Look Towards China?

English is still necessary for advancement in Vietnam and throughout the region—it is the official language of ASEAN—yet some experts warn against parents becoming too obsessed with their children becoming anglophones.

“We must not only focus on English, but also pay attention to demands of localities and grades. Besides prioritising English, we need to develop other foreign languages,” Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha said in reporting by Vietnam News. “Cities and provinces which have the necessary facilities to teach other languages should be encouraged”.

The lack of Chinese taught in Vietnamese schools may be surprising given that Mandarin Chinese is the language spoken by the most people worldwide, and it is the official language of mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore, countries in close proximity to and bearing business interests in Vietnam.

"China is the world's second largest economy,” Nguyen Thi Linh Tu, deputy head of the Chinese language faculty in the Hue University’s University of Foreign Language, said. “Learning Chinese, Vietnamese people can access a huge market in China and Chinese communities in other countries".

second languageImage source: taiwan-panorama.com

Priscille Lasémillante agrees. The Vietnamese have a super power just in front of them. China is in the process of developing a cultural cooperation with the rest of the world and perhaps Vietnam should take note, she said.

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VN's English Language Target "Project 2020" Looks Hazy

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

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.

Early Warning Signs

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.

learning english onlineImage 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.

learning english onlineImage source: image.thanhnien.vn

At that point, the project had a VND10 trillion (US$446.43 million) budget.

Student Pushback

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.

A Persistent Fever

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.

learning english onlineImage 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.

Foreign Teachers to Go in HCMC

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.

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“Trade Gap” in Ed: Foreign Students Missing in VN Universities

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

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”.

study abroadImage source: headinthesandblog.org

A Dutch Student Abroad in Vietnam

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.

Minding the Gap

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.

study abroadImage 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.

Changing Perceptions

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.

study abroadImage 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

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Pros and Cons of Raising Children in Expat Environment

By: Keely Burkey

Anita North, a child psychologist with Ethos Asia in Ho Chi Minh City, has experience raising children internationally firsthand. Originally from Australia, she worked as a psychologist in Thailand for five years while raising her two boys. “As they grew up, they used to say they were Thai,” she said. “We’ve sent them to school in Australia now that they’re in high school, partly to give them a sense of their culture as Australians.”

Azrael Jeffrey, Psychotherapist and Educational Specialist at the International Center for Cognitive Development (ICCD) said the movement of not only parents but entire families is creating “third-culture expats”. “We see kids who have French parents, were raised in Africa, and who spent years in the Philippines,” he said, also noting that a British or Australian international school might add more cultural variation. So how does this affect the development of children?

No Cookie Cutter Answer

For North and her colleague Nessa Maguire at Ethos, it’s a difficult topic to discuss particularly because every child, and every situation, is different and demands an entirely individualised approach. While some children become more tolerant, accepting and worldly thanks to their experiences overseas, other children might lash out, or become introverted, anxious or depressed.

While the majority of their clients come from Vietnamese families, North said around 30 percent of the children they see moved here when their parents accepted a HCMC-based job. “Most of these children come from families who move quite frequently, to a new country every two or three years,” Maguire said.

“This brings difficulties, because the children aren’t able to establish a close friendship group. Then you have the parents who perhaps see this as a more long-term move. Then you have the difficulty of, ‘Okay, where’s home?’”

childrenImage source: cdn-images-1.medium.com

“It’s a catch-22,” North agreed. “You don’t want them to be so rooted in home that they can’t fit in with the current culture. But you need them to have enough of an understanding with their home base that they can connect with their family and friends there.”

The professionals at Ethos Asian aver that most of their clients are special needs children who need support for issues like behavioral problems, attention deficit disorder and autism. For parents used to a high level of support for conditions like these in countries like the UK, the US and Australia, the change to Vietnam, which has less of a developed understanding of special needs support, can be challenging.

Jeffrey, on the other hand, does come across cases in which children need help processing a shift between cultures, especially at school. “Academics is law here,” he said simply. “Even with the international schools, a high precedence is set first and foremost on the test scores.” He said that while the most popular kid in a US high school might be the football star, popularity and social acceptance in an Asia-based school can be centred much more around intelligence and book smarts.

“I’ve had cases where an athlete who doesn’t get the best test scores will feel isolated here,” he said. In those cases, Jeffrey will encourage the student and the parents to branch out and develop social networks outside the school. “There’s not as much of an emphasis on the ‘whole student’ here,” he said.

childrenImage source: calcorporatehousing.com

The School’s the Thing

All the child psychologists we talked to agreed: when it comes to making sure a child has a smooth and healthy transition to another culture, the school is the most important factor. Schools are important for any child, and doubly so for one with special needs.

“In Australia, the UK, the US, a lot of [school-provided] support is mandated by law,” North said.

“Here, because they go into a private school system, the level of support is dependent on what school they choose, and what that school allows.”

childrenImage source: cdn-images-1.medium.com

This support might be allowing the parents to make their child a peanut butter sandwich for lunch rather than opting for the school-provided option, providing extra tutoring or even the presence of full-time care. Even basic logistics can be a deciding factor: if the child has a physical disability, does the international school have ramps and elevators? If the child has a tendency to wander off, is there security present outside the school?

If the special needs are severe enough, Jeffrey says that some international schools will consider it bad business to bring these cases on board—they would require costly resources, and other parents might choose another school if they think one is focused too much on special needs. He declined to say which schools.

“It’s all about the school’s and the family’s expectations,” he said. “There are no bad schools, just different personalities.”

childrenImage source: spin.atomicobject.com

Your Transition Checklist

If your family is headed to a new country soon, the child psychologists at Ethos Asia and ICCD have provided some tips.

Prepare well in advance. Children need to feel like part of the decision-making process, or else they might feel powerless and act out. Let them take control of small things, like choosing the colour of their new room, or picking what furniture they want to bring with them overseas.

Make sure there’s closure. When you’re leaving your home base, make sure you do it the right way. Give the child time to say goodbye to their friends, and provide ways for them to keep in touch in the future.

Prepare a scrapbook. Get your child ready and excited about the new country by creating a country scrapbook. You can include pictures of the currency, information about the climate, easy phrases in the national language -- anything that will help them understand their new home before the get there.

Pay attention to the details. If your child is attached to any food item or product, it’d be a good idea to make sure it’s sold in the new country. If it’s not, try changing the product before the move. It’ll help the child get used to the change and not associate it negatively with their new home.

childrenImage source: expertbeacon.com

Get excited! As parents, you’re the leaders here, and kids will pick up on any stress or unhappiness you might be experiencing with the move. Put on a brave face and show your kid that they should see the next country as both an adventure and a challenge.

Create a social network. Relationships with both the community and other children are important. For the first three months, sign up your kid for anything they might be interested in: pottery class, baseball, yoga, you name it. Preventing isolation is key in a new country.

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Education Experts: Children in Vietnam Ask To Work Too Hard

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

East Asian culture is known to praise academic achievements, and we see no exception here in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese parents, especially in the big cities, are pressured by social expectations as well as their own, and are sending their kids to all kinds of after school classes. In addition to the overwhelming workload in school, children spend their evenings not relaxing and enjoying life, but participating in classroom activities and struggling to learn new knowledge.

The question that these parents and even teachers seem to ignore: will it make them high-functioning people? Or can overwork undermine children’s development?

overworkImage source: plan.ie

According to Dr. Nguyen Thuy Anh, founder of the “Reading with Kids” club based in Hanoi, being forced to learn too many things at the same time can lead to a lack of motivation in children. Seeing no purpose in learning about subjects that they are not genuinely interested in, many children start developing the habit of what she calls “getting by”: rushing to finish homework without fully understanding the meaning of what they are doing.

Parents tend to assume that education can only be conducted in the classroom, and the responsibility of educating their children lies solely with the teachers. “In fact, children can learn a lot through day-to-day activities outside of school, including interactions with family members at home and going out together with friends”, she said.

Parents can encourage and motivate their kids to study simply by talking about subjects at school, and explaining to them why it is important that they learn certain things, instead of talking only about their grades. Too much pressure on perfect grades, without concern for the child’s psychological wellbeing, can even lead to disastrous consequences, such as low self-esteem, resentment, rebellion, and self-destructive behaviors.

Nguyen said “during the developmental years, a child does not really need to cram as much knowledge in their head as possible, but more importantly, they need to learn to live”. They need to learn about the world around them, which encompasses more than textbooks and school matters, and how they can fit into that world as an individual.

Making friends with the right people, learning skills such as self discipline and self-defense, and taking up hobbies can all benefit and potentially save their life in the future, as modern life is increasingly complex. All these things certainly do not come from hours of toiling over homework.

On the bright side, educators are now more aware of the problems with overwork, and starting to incorporate more elements into the school curriculum to facilitate children’s overall development.

overworkImage source: thukyluat.vn

Dao Thi Phuong Thao, deputy head of Ban Mai Primary School, shared the school’s strategy for holistic development through a focus on five values.“We aim to cultivate these five values in our students, including personality, intelligence, capability, health, and global vision, through programs such as The Leader in Me. At school, children get to participate in a variety of fun, engaging activities rather than only learning in class,” Dao said.

On the last day of school before the Tet Holiday, students of Ban Mai Primary School gathered in the school yard to meet children’s writer Le Phuong Lien, author of a picture book about Lunar New Year, and then returned to class to write their own resolutions for the coming year. In the afternoon, they cleaned their classroom, following the traditional custom of spring cleaning before Tet. Such activities—though not explicitly academic and perhaps unusual in a school setting—are undoubtedly memorable to children and contribute to their development as a person.

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5 Reasons Why Learning English is a Problem for Students in Vietnam

By: Michael Turner

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.

Learning English in Vietnam

Too many students and not enough teachers

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. 

Learning English in Vietnam

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

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. 

Learning English in Vietnam

Students lack confidence to speak the English language

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. 

There is not one single version of English

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. 

Learning English in 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

Leaving out the final sound

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. 

Conclusion

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. 

Author’s Bio

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.


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