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Problems for English Language Learners in Vietnam

Problems for English Language Learners in Vietnam | ITTT | TEFL Blog

As a developing country, Vietnam currently has an urgent need for the international language English to attract foreign investment and to promote the economy, especially after becoming a member of the World Trade Organisation (Nguyen T.T, 2007). With this growth of international trade and an increasing number of foreign tourists, the ability to communicate in English has become a passport to a better job for many Vietnamese.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Stuart B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

The Popularity of English in Vietnam

English is taught in schools, universities and foreign language centers across the country. There are now more teachers and students of English than any other subject. The fast process of globalization has made it difficult to maintain the existing and admittedly low standards in its teaching and use. The boom and uptake of English language study and teaching in Vietnam, along with some of the underlying differences between the Vietnamese and English languages are a cause of several problems for learners. (Hoang, 2018).

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Lack of English-speaking Professionals

One problem for learners is a hugely disproportionate demand and supply issue. Vietnam has a population of over 95 million and a sizeable proportion have a strong desire to learn English, the demand for English language teaching far outstrips the supply of native speaker and competent non-native speaker teachers (Hoang, 2018). Therefore, English teachers in Vietnam are lacking in both quality and quantity. This makes program innovation much more difficult for the Vietnamese training system.

To do massive and long-term retraining of teachers in English competence would demand human and logistical resources beyond the capacity of the system at present. Even if the educational program changes in the direction of pronunciation training instead of grammar, the small number of teachers will not be qualified and competent to accurately teach and assess students (Hoang, 2018). Some teachers may pronounce many words wrong in classes resulting in learners pronouncing words incorrectly and if that occurs over a long period it is harder to correct.

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Many English language learners in Vietnam face the common problem that although they spent six or seven years studying English at school, they can’t pronounce an English sentence correctly and they are not confident enough to communicate in the language (Hieu, 2011). Mispronouncing a word or pattern can have several consequences, for example, miscommunication. If a word is not well pronounced it can cause the listener not to understand what the learner is saying and get the wrong idea. When learning the language this might cause the learner to lose their confidence, thus stopping them from practicing, wanting or feeling the need to use the language.

Outdated Teaching Methods

This may also cause learners to spend more time and dedication to other subjects at school and their English proficiency and skills suffer and are undeveloped. The Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training stresses the development of practical communication skills, this is rarely reflected at the classroom level, where the emphasis is on the development of reading comprehension, vocabulary and structural patterns to pass examinations. During training courses, Vietnamese teachers show great interest in new methodologies, but after they return from those courses, they continue teaching in old methods (Hoang, 2018). Learners often learn English following traditional methods, this is a very passive method of teaching where students mostly study grammar and the opportunity for communication is hugely reduced. This means students are unable to develop rapid reactions to use when they are communicating and their listening and speaking skills can be poor, causing frustration for the learner and lowering of confidence (Hieu, 2011).

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Classroom Environment

For learners there are often classroom constraints, schools are often located in noisy areas, with poor ventilation, overloaded classrooms with up to fifty or sixty students, poor libraries and poorly paid staff. Better teachers in rural areas often go to the cities to seek higher or better employment in other fields. Class contact hours for learners may only be a few hours a week. Textbooks and teaching material used in class may be out of date or due to budget issues at particular schools, resources may be lacking for learners. The teaching of English in schools in Vietnam focuses mainly on grammar, sentence structures, and vocabulary.

As a result, the teachers only teach the bare necessity required to pass examinations and teaching is not linked to the learning needs of individual students. This can cause learners to become demotivated because English is just another subject at school, not part of their life. Many students eventually fail to see the importance and pride in being able to speak fluent English. It is very difficult for learners because of the grammar focussed syllabus in Vietnam to communicate fluently and effectively in English since it is rarely spoken except some special places for example multinational corporations and English language clubs (Hoang, 2018).

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Vietnamese vs. English Language Structure

The Vietnamese language is a beautiful tonal language with very little in common with English. The language has some phonotactic features that keep native learners from pronouncing English like native speakers (Nguyen T.T. 2007). Their native language affects both the ability to produce English sounds and the ability to hear sounds (Avery & Ehrlich, 1992). Pronunciation is one of the most important parts of English learners in Vietnam, as well as one of the most complicated.

Vietnamese is a syllable-timed language and English is a stress-timed language, consequently, Vietnamese learners have problems with stressed words and are not able to vocalize stress by the tone in English words due to syllabic tone (Honey, 1987). Learners tend to speak English either without any stress at all or they apply Vietnamese pronunciation rules and stress each syllable the same. Another pronunciation problem is missing the middle sounds of multi-syllable words. A lot of Vietnamese words are disyllabic and multi-syllable words with middle sounds are unfamiliar and can prove hard to pronounce for learners. A third pronunciation problem for Vietnamese English learners is struggling to pronounce final consonant sounds “z”, “s”, “t”, “v”, “ed”, “ks” and “st” because they have no equivalent in their native language. Sometimes learners will delete the sound or substitute with a familiar one.

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The problem of money for learners and the costs associated with gaining access to regular classes with well-trained native speaking teachers is quite often out of reach for most young Vietnamese. Currently, a lot of learners will only have this opportunity at the university level or in some of the larger cities and schools throughout Vietnam.

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In conclusion, these are some of the more recognized problems most Vietnamese will encounter while learning English in their country. The differences between the Vietnamese and English languages are the main cause of the majority of problems. It has been stated that paying attention to the teaching-learning process of pronunciation becomes a crucial need for these learners, not only to avoid all of the problems mispronouncing carries but also to allow learners to reach their full English language learning potential.

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