by Paul Whymark, Greenheart Travel English Teacher in Vietnam
I have heard it said in management speak that people are only on one frequency and all turned into ‘Radio W. I. I. – F. M.’ (That is Radio – What Is In It – For, Me’). However, this phrase doesn’t imply the obvious that different people are tuned into different frequencies on the ‘F. M.’ wave length. Even though we all need enough to get by, many people aren’t acting solely on selfish reasons alone.
A central reason for traveling to Vietnam for six months was to develop my skills in TEFL work. This sort of time frame enables also both self reflection and time to develop a personal approach to TEFL / TESOL. Real classroom settings allow the progression of students to be seen and a format and curriculum over view to be appreciated. Such experience can only assist in opening up possibilities for work in the UK or else where, part time or full, and this is some form of self interest for me being here in Vietnam on a Greenheart program.
A month long TEFL/ TESOL Certificate completion provides good insight on how to deliver each week’s lessons to students of varying abilities. Putting a lesson together is one thing; actually getting a person who has learned to speak differently all their lives, to make the correct pronunciation is another. Pronunciation, as I have discovered, is a key aspect as it even affects levels of understanding, thought it is also true that people can speak the wrong sounding words but still understand the intended words.
Twice a week my classes are only focused on pronunciation. These are really good fun and the students smile and enjoy them a lot; they are called ‘Ship or Sheep’ as this is a key book that is used. There are a number of resources that are used, but mostly it is me in front of the class breaking each word down and sometimes each letter to component sounds. When these sounds have been mastered then we build the whole word up again to form its total sound. These lessons provide a ‘safe’ environment for people to make as many mistakes as it takes to get the words phonically correct as said or heard.
It is in fact very difficult for Vietnamese and other nationalities to pronounce English words correctly. Try it in reverse and speak Vietnamese and it quickly becomes apparent just how well they are all doing! I try to say some Vietnamese words and have not a clue what the difference in sound is, not surprising then it must be just the same for the Vietnamese in reverse.
In English there are confusing vowel sounds like [ir, ar, ur, ] that all sound like ‘er’ so just reading words is not always a good guide to what the sounds are really like. Recently, one student was really struggling with the word “weren’t”. By the end of the evening the ‘n’ and ‘t’ at the end, or a word with ‘er’ in it was happily achieved. It is things like that that have definitely been the most rewarding, as one is privileged to share the enjoyment such a moment that such achievement brings.
So many jobs and ways of life in the UK have become soulless procedures of ‘tick box culture’ and are monotonously sucking the life out of humanity, or is that humanity out of life? Either way, such occupational formats end up completely miserable and dehumanizing for those who are undertaking them. One of my criteria for work in general is to do something that makes a ‘contribution’ more than just another widget of GNP, even if it is only assisting someone’s pronunciation of the word “weren’t”. This is not about being against GNP or widgets and indeed both are needed, however just the mindless autonomic behavior of the ‘tick box’ existence, with out any thing of the ‘human level’ involved.
In fact this is a key theme of mine in life generally, that one day we will all be gone, and so really what is important is what is left behind. This includes human social capital as wells as hard physical things, though they are clearly of importance also. Enabling people to speak pronunciations correctly and understand English better is only a very small thing at one level yet has something of that sort of intangible contribution to life of greater value. People in Vietnam, especially the young, know they will be in a global market and an internet world, and therefore even a small grasp of English will help them to be included.
My employment chain has several links from the UK to Hanoi. Firstly I enrolled on the Greenheart program, they found an NGO called CSDS, who have the residency and social support that provides for me whilst in Vietnam. CSDS also co- ordinate the employment locations and searches, that provides the jobs to work at, for me this is a small language school in Hanoi. They mainly serves a client base around the University of Hanoi and also support social projects out in rural areas.
Before setting out from the UK, one never knows just how things will turn out or what may be in store and there has been a few teething troubles and minor issues. For example, the work at the language school did take a couple of weeks to get going, and consequently has reduced total earnings a bit. In Vietnam, there is a period of trial getting to know you. A more recent challenge has been how to improve lessons to elementary / beginner level, which have been a bit hit and miss. The better English speakers I have felt able to assist better. I had not realized how much those unable to speak English were struggling. My plan of action is to start simply and to rearrange the room a bit to enable those not so comfortable to participate more. Being a native speaker, it is easy to forget when talking even half normal speed how things become lost for the learner, and about not speaking to quietly, even when you think you are not.
Both the language school and CSDS give support to charitable activities in the mountain area, where people can have tough and demanding lives. This may include English teaching at a basic level and more immediate needs like clothing and even food. CSDS has a very open and western aware perspective on environment and social issues. They actively promote recycling and energy management, and even though it does feel like a considerable uphill battle, at least they are trying and have made a start. An up and coming visit to one such location is coming up shortly, so I will probably have some thing to write about later.
Remote and beautiful parts of Vietnam can also have a darker side to them. Prior to arrival, I was completely unaware of the issue of people trafficking. Inevitably there is a propensity for young children and women to be at higher risk, although this does happen to men also. One potential risk is to end up working in a factory in China or Cambodia. People get tricked into taking a parcel some where then are effectively kidnapped and enslaved to a role or job. CSDS are also involved in working to assist people who are at risk in such communities indirectly.
Is FM radio available in these parts? don’t suppose I would understand more than an odd word anyway. One thing I have seen is that not all people are tuned into the wave length of RADIO WII- FM in a self serving way. That is neither ‘Westerners’ who come to teach English and undertake NGO work nor like minded Vietnamese people, and for humanity that is encouraging.