Teaching English in Vietnam

By Larry Way, VEP Tutor

I returned recently from a wonderfully fulfilling though all-too-short volunteer experience with the Center for Sustainable Studies (CSDS) in Hanoi, Vietnam.  The organization Green Heart International is based in Chicago and has relationships with various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) around the world eager for volunteers.  They helped me to find a volunteer opportunity with CSDS.  My trip was a month long, but I spent two of the four weeks volunteering as an ESL instructor with CSDS. Were it not for my job and my desire to return to my wife, children, and grandchildren in the Philadelphia area, I would have liked to spend more time being of service to the students who are being helped so ably by CSDS.

My volunteer work involved the teaching of English as a second language.  I have some background in this area since I volunteer my time with VEP teaching English to Spanish-speaking residents living near me.  My knowledge of Spanish helps me to fulfill this task.  But I have no background in Vietnamese other the Vietnamese language lesson I was given courtesy of CSDS. And yet, I really believe that I became an effective teacher of English to my CSDS students and was really able to connect with them and advance their knowledge of English.

First of all, CSDS provided a native speaker of Vietnamese to nearly every class I taught.  These native speakers are called local supporters, and they help the volunteers when the concept being discussed can be explained in greater detail by using Vietnamese.  We used Vietnamese sparingly because, after all, these were English classes, but the few time such assistance was necessary, it was very helpful to have.  I have a physical disability that makes standing up for long periods rather problematic for me.  CSDS helped me tremendously by having another volunteer come to the classes with me, and she did all the writing on the board while we were both engaged in the lesson.  The students also gained the perspective of an American speaker of English as well as that of a European for whom English is a second language.

The main reason I traveled to Vietnam was to be of service to some young people of that beautiful country by helping them to improve their English skills, and perhaps enabling them to increase their employment opportunities in their chosen fields or professions upon graduation.  And in my small way and during my very short time in Vietnam with the help of an extremely efficiently run and effective organization like CSDS, I think I was able to be of service and to make a difference in the lives of some of these young people.  By the end of my two weeks in Hanoi, I really think that I was connecting with the students.  The classes went well, and there was lots of enthusiastic participation and engagement on the part of the students.  They were increasing their abilities and skills in English which was precisely the reason I volunteered for this work.

In fact, I continue to write to six of the students who want to continue to dialog with me and have me critique their written English.  Another student has asked me to recite stories and send him tapes of the stories for him to continue to practice his English.  I am happy to do just that and will continue to assist these students as long as they wish to do so.