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Using only English when teaching ESL/EFL in Vietnam

This article treats a topic quite interesting, “Using only English to teach English as a Second Language in Vietnam”. Although at CELTA course we were taught to use only English when teaching English I find it quite difficult in some situations.

I have been teaching English in Vietnam since 2008. I had adult classes, children classes, TOEIC and IELTS preparation test classes, and now I mostly teach teenagers. Of course from the very beginning I tried to apply everything I learned during CELTA in my classroom.

The problem I have, as many other teachers, is that many students who are in the same class are not at the same English level. Many times in an intermediate class there are many beginner students and the difference is even more obvious when the class is more advance. This difference is huge in public schools, at least here in Vietnam.

When you teach beginners, the vocabulary used is very simple, usually nouns and already known simple adjectives and adverbs. The teacher can use pictures to teach vocabulary, so using Vietnamese (in my case) is really not necessary. But the situation is different when you teach learners who are at advance level.

I do speak some Vietnamese and l always learn the Vietnamese translation of the words I am going to teach. Many times after I explain the difficult vocabulary I ask my students to translate it for me just to be sure they understood the vocabulary. Surprise, in most cases they understand wrong or they don’t understand it at all.

Many of you might say that it is my fault because I am the teacher, probably I didn’t explain clear enough or I am a bad teacher but usually there isn’t enough time to lose with this kind of explanations especially when there are no good results at the end.

Many times you provide a very simple and clear definition of the word you want to teach and soon realize that there are other tree words in your definition that are unknown to your students which leads to other explanations and more wasted time, time that you might want to use for speaking. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that providing translation for the vocabulary is good, all I am saying is that sometimes using only English when teaching English is not possible or it isn’t the best solution.

However, if a student tries hard to understand a definition of a word given in English chances to remember the word are much higher.

When it comes to speaking, things are not so complicated. Many times I don’t understand what they mean when speaking English; I understand every single word the learner is saying but I don’t understand the meaning. Using concept checking questions is the way to solve this problem. It usually works for me.

Usually, Vietnamese learners of English come to school to learn English then, 2 hours later, come back home where they speak only Vietnamese. They always complain that there isn’t anyone to practice English with and they forget most of the vocabulary they learned. Maybe that’s why they learn English for 10 or even more years and they still don’t speak English very well. Moreover, I think the biggest problem is pronunciation, not vocabulary. There are so many Vietnamese who speak English but nobody understands a word they are saying.

One more thing I want to say about using only English to teach English; sometimes using Vietnamese (in my case) is something every Vietnamese learners of English likes to hear from his foreign teacher. It is the best way to establish a good teacher-student relation and to create a relaxed atmosphere because at the end learning and teaching English have to be an enjoyable experience, using or not using only English in the classroom. As long the learners feel good, they will learn English and both the teacher and the learners will have great time, and probably this is the most important!

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