After a week analysing results from the survey and focus group, I have finalised my interview scheduled and met up with Q.N., a Vietnamese Ph.D. student in education at UOW.
Back in Vietname, Q.N. is also an English teacher, having his own English centre while lecturing at a university. He has been abroad for years, in between periods of teaching in our home country, having studied in Europe and now Australia. Altogether, these things build up his solid combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience, which was evident in the way he answered my questions.
Since he was around 15 years older than I am, I did feel a bit anxious at first. But as we were holding two cups of coffee and settling ourselves down the McKinnon Lawn, in the blazing and cozy sunshine, I gradually eased myself into the conversation, which soon became so engaging and filled with jokes and laughters, and of course, lasted for more than an hour – twice as long as I had expected.
It took me more than three hours to transcript the interview; it was so informative and already so concise it couldn’t be sized down any further. In this post, I will share some very few key excerpts only, along with some comments when possible.
Mia: “From your experience, what are some of the key difference between English taught in classroom context in Vietnam and real-life, conversational English?”
Q.N.: “This is actually a key question in our field (laughes) … Mostly, teachers in Vietnam don’t have much first-hand experience in a foreign, English-speaking environment, therefore, it’s hard for them to make the materials [taught in class] close to real-life context”
I was instantly engrossed at this point. It was rare for me to see someone in the teaching and education field approach the issues in this manner.
Mia: “How would you describe the current English teaching method in Vietnam?”
Q.N.: “Well, I would say it’s a hybrid between traditional methods and Task-Based Learning, which is to assign the students a task – like making a brochure for example – at the beginning of the lesson, which they have to figure out themselves, thus they are “trapped” into the task and forced to use English. By the end of the class, they would naturally acquire what the lesson aims to equip them.”
Task-Based Learning, turns out, is something I have personally experienced in my French classes at UOW as well as back in high school (in Vietnam) where I majored in English.
Mia: “What do you think are the issues with IELTS training in Vietnam?”
Q.N.: “… I think it’s the fact that the students just want something instant! They only wanted the desired scores but not improving their competence … The tips and structures given by [some] IELTS centres kill the students – they are shortcuts for lazy students, not a proper way to develop their skills.”
Back in Vietnam, in my half-a-gap-year, I tutored some students for their university entrance exam in English and IETLS exam, and they did seem to seek only short, intensive, quick courses – “shortcuts” – despite their riddled basis of English. They all hesitated when I suggested opting for a longer (6 months, for instance) course to build up the basics first.
And finally, this part hit me really, really hard:
Mia: “Then do you think students themselves are also partly responsible for the situation?”
Q.N.: “You know what, I believe that students are 90% – or at least 70% – responsible for their own incompetence, particularly if they are lazy learners, rarely practise, and are indifference to their own development.”
It opened up a new direction for my research, and might be a potential topic for future projects as well, about how the students worsen their own situation, but also about how they should have some strong self-agency to get over that.
I’ll be pulling everything together into a complete report in the next few weeks, and will try to not procrastinate (well, I definitely would still procrastinate at some point, but at least I will minimize it). Drop by often to check on any updates!