TESOL Vietnam: Overcoming The Challenges of Teaching English in Vietnam

Teaching Challenges TESOL VietnamThe challenges that most foreign teachers experience in Vietnam result from the significant differences that exist between Asian and Western culture, and more specifically, certain socio-economic realities of present day Vietnamese society. Here you will get an overview of some of the cultural differences involved in teaching English in Vietnam and learn how TESOL methods fit into the picture.

Educational System

The education system in Vietnam today is still very traditional, based on rote learning, and very teacher centered, following a deeply rooted influence on Confucian thought and philosophy. This obviously leads to a situation where students are overly dependent on teachers (from our perspective) and this situation is exacerbated by the fact that local teachers here make a very low salary. In many cases, their salaries are so low that teachers and local schools have instituted a sort of bribery system where students are forced to take (and pay for) extra classes, and are threatened with failure for non-compliance.

Communicative Approach

How does the Communicative Approach fit into all of this? Well, in some cases, very well. Language centres are extremely popular and the better ones have been outrageously successful in recent years as most Vietnamese people see any money spent on Education as a good investment. Most of these centres are based on current methodology in ESL teaching and some of them offer professional development, including refresher workshops on all sorts of TESOL style topics.

However, a number of teachers at language centres have complained that they feel more like entertainers than educators. One of the reasons for this is that students perceive ESL classes as places to have fun as a break from the monotony of their normal education systems. While the element of fun is an essential part of language learning, in my opinion, it can also lead to students perceiving ESL as less important than other “more serious” subjects.

In many language centres, this may not be an issue as the main objectives are basically to teach a few skills but possibly more importantly, to keep the students happy, motivated and coming back for the next course. In my current situation however, as Director of the English department for ESL support for two foreign degree programs in Vietnam, results DO matter. According to government regulations, students are allowed into our programs with any level of English, provided that they obtain an Ielts score of 6.0 before the end of their first or second year. Therefore, depending on the program, students need to progress from Elementary to Ielts 6.0 in about 9 or 18 months, while studying their core courses as well.

This requires a flexible strategy in which teachers and course developers need to combine the best elements of the Communicative Approach with both traditional practices and also innovative ideas in order to attempt to stimulate interest and help students achieve their required results.