07 Jul Getting Ready to Teach English in Vietnam

The challenges of teaching English in unfamiliar cultural contexts are great but the rewards are even greater! Karen H. shares her experience of working as an ESL teacher in Vietnam.

It was a rude awakening; I was teaching a group of fifteen pre- intermediate students in Vietnam and the target language was present perfect; the context was travel (‘have you ever been?’). I was excited about this session as students always love to talk about travel, even if they haven’t travelled, they dream of it and that gets them conversing. However, this particular topic began and ended within moments.

Mr. Huy, where have you been? Nowhere

Have you ever travelled abroad? No

Okay, have you ever been to the province next to you? No

Would you like to visit Thailand? No

Conversation after conversation took on this exact form.

After digging deeper and wondering what was going on – the penny dropped. English wasn’t needed. Why would it be needed? There was no world other than Vietnam. There was no need to learn another language; Vietnamese was it!

Know your ‘audience’!

In business, we are constantly told to know whom we are speaking to and to not lose sight of that. If we are speaking to a room full of children, you don’t open up with, ‘Please take 5 minutes to introduce yourself to your neighbor’. If you are speaking to a boardroom full of board members, you don’t start out with a game of ‘hot potato’.

Do your research on your students; know their culture, dreams, desires and what’s important to them. Tailor your classes around these issues. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the grammar of English that we forget we need to instill in our students the importance of learning English, especially for those who are taking it as a mandatory subject in school, or because their parents have made them or the company has decided its employees should all take English classes.

Keep that interest alive by having topics that are interesting and relevant to your target group; consider culture, socio- economic background, age, sports, and hobbies. Each country is so very unique in its way of life and generalizations can be made within a country (i.e. most Vietnamese love badminton, and football).

After being in Vietnam for almost two years, I felt the winds of change, which continue to blow now. The younger generation is just starting to discover there are countries next door to be explored. The change is slow; for many, the need to explore is minimal but the desire is there in some and for a select few it burns hot.

The biggest challenge of teaching in Vietnam wasn’t where to put your tongue when you are trying to pronounce the letter ‘l’; it wasn’t how to use tenses that don’t exist in Vietnamese, rather it was explaining why learning English was useful and how it can make a difference in their lives and the lives of their family. English, for the Vietnamese, is not just a language; it can be a life changer.

To teach in Vietnam was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life; you are truly making a difference in many lives, not just the student in front of you but all those family members who are standing behind that one individual.

It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the Vietnamese people and yourself.

For those of you who are interested in this adventure, you can expect the salary to be between $12-$25/hour depending on experience and education.  Most places require at least a year of experience and they want native English speakers (this is very important to the Vietnamese).

The cost of living is something that depends on the individual.  You can do it very cheaply by eating at local establishments, going to local bars and not frequenting expat ‘hang outs’ as things are automatically more expensive (i.e. you can go to a local sidewalk vendor and have a coffee for .50 cents or you can go to Starbucks and pay $4.50). Dinner can cost you $3 or $50 depending on whether you choose to eat street food or at an international restaurant. Having said that, eating out is generally cheaper.  You can get a lovely Italian meal for $30 including drinks whereas in another country that same meal may cost you $70.  Housing is more expensive.  Do not be fooled into thinking that because it’s Vietnam it will be cheap- it’s not. A one bedroom apartment is approximately $1000-$1200/ month. However, if you wish to save money while teaching there, in addition to adding to your cultural experience, this is achievable.

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