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Teaching English to Vietnamese Apr 1, 2015

Teaching English to Vietnamese

Location: Vietnam

Underlying Background
In Vietnam, English is not practised and the very few who speak English have difficulty pronouncing the words - oftentimes, what they are trying to say is difficult to understand. From the feedback I get, the Vietnamese English teachers back-in-the-day (actually even up to this day), do not have a good command of the English language, specially pronunciation. The wrong pronunciation is carried through the generations - eg. cheapest is pronounced chippest. Their English writing skill is a lot better than their speaking skill.

Factors that Inhibit Learning

  • dexterity - because certain English sounds are not part of their vocabulary, their tongue does not have the dexterity yet to properly pronounce the English words, even if they already know how the words should sound. It's a matter of pronouncing the new words repeatedly enough so the tongue develops the muscles needed to produce the sound.
  • social conformity - standing out is frowned upon (so they tend to remain silent even if they know the answer)
  • shyness - fear of losing face when making a mistake
  • rigid template - they tend to learn by copying exactly what the teacher says...without room for innovation or creative speaking
  • unfamiliarity - to be able to speak a new language, you have to hear it first...and hear it many times before it registers into the brain. Vietnamese don't really have that many occasions to hear English - their friends speak Vietnamese, the media is Vietnamese and the school is Vietnamese

Pronunciation Challenges

  • Vietnamese may not actually be hearing what you are saying because they don't have that sound in their mother tongue. Eg - pronouncing the last syllable. When you say "About", what they may hear is "Abou". Make sure they see your face/mouth when you talk - they take their cue from it.
  • they haven't heard the words often enough - make them listen to an English radio or tv, even if they don't understand what's being said
  • Vietnamese have trouble pronouncing consonants set side by side:
    • RLD - as in woRLD, griLLeD
    • XT - as in neXT, projeCTS
  • they have a tendency not to pronounce the last consonant:
    • T - as in abouT, fiVe, websiTe | they say "abou", "fi", "websigh"
  • they have a tendency to pronounce D as T - e.g. GOOD (they pronounce GUT), FOOD (they pronounce FOOT)
  • long A is pronounced as short E - e.g. GATE (they say "get"), BAKE (they say "bek")

Cheat Sheet

Things to Do

  • Provide written handouts of lecture notes
  • Make it clear to them that they start making progress only if they reached making 1000 mistakes - that way, they won't feel shy about making mistakes and consider it a step higher in the learning curve

Things NOT to Do

  • They are sensitive and making a mistake is losing face. Never put them in an embarrassing situation. Be extra supportive
  • Don't instill in them the habit of saying 'Thank You' out of habit. They say things sincerely
  • Avoid touching them
  • Allow them to call you Teacher
  • Don't force students to look you in the eyes

Daily Assignment

  • subscribe to a daily "word of the day" with any online dictionary site - every morning, an email will be sent with a new word. This increases vocabulary.
  • turn the tv on to an English NEWS channel and keep it on - even if they don't understand what they hear, it trains their ears to the sound of English. They can't learn to say something they haven't heard. Also, news anchors have good English pronunciations. Avoid English music channels.
  • devote an English hour with the family, if all members want to speak English - set a time, e.g. - from 7pm to 8pm when everyone is expected to be there. First one to speak Vietnamese washes the dishes!
  • practise saying the difficult words (as specified by the teacher) 100x. This develops the muscles needed by the tongue to produce the desired sound. This also trains the mind to develop brain memory of the word. In a normal conversation, the word will simply come out naturally the way it should be pronounced, without having to be conscious of it.

Class Routine

  • from the difficult words encountered the last session, make the student say the same words again. If he did his assignment of saying it 100x at home, there should be an improvement.
  • open up the 3 dictionary sites above and play the difficult word on all three sites. This way, the student learns how the same word could sound differently from 3 different voices with three different ways of saying the same word. When doing this, record how the student pronounces the word and play it back to him and compare with the way it is pronounced in any of the 3 online dictionary sites. This way, he hears his pronunciation from a machine and not while he says it (the 2 sounds may have a big difference to him).
  • let them talk about something that interests them. Let me them write it down after. Correct the spelling and grammar. Then improve the sentence construction as follows:
    student: My father is a farmer
    teacher: What does he farm?
    student: pepper
    teacher: Then you can say, "My father is a pepper farmer"
    Make him write the longer sentence down and speak it correctly. Continue the process so that the sentence could end up like, "My 65 year old father is a pepper farmer who works in a 10-acre field near a pond on a hill overlooking the town of Pleiku."
    This step-by-step approach allows the student to develop a simple sentence into a long flowing sentence. They will need guidance on the proper use of prepositions to connect several ideas together to form the long sentence.
More to follow as this serves as my growing template in teaching English.

--- TheLoneRider

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