What is it like to teach in Vietnam?

What is it like to teach in Vietnam?

Paulita Jones started teaching English as a foreign language abroad in 2011. During that time, she has worked in Jakarta, Indonesia and Bogotá, Colombia. Since May of 2016, she has been teaching in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Here she talks about her experiences and...


Paulita Jones started teaching English as a foreign language abroad in 2011. During that time, she has worked in Jakarta, Indonesia and Bogotá, Colombia. Since May of 2016, she has been teaching in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Here she talks about her experiences and shares the five biggest lessons that she has learned from her experiences…

How do you think your students initially viewed you as a teacher? Were there any obstacles you had to overcome?

I received positive feedback from students early on – the most rewarding comment that I have heard from students is simple: “You make me understand.”

My biggest obstacle has been explaining grammar. More complex teaching such as this allows me to hone my teaching skills. Most of my classes are prepared, but I am responsible for the execution of the lessons, down to the specific details. My objective is to ensure that every student leaves the class with a better overall understanding. Explaining grammar continues to be a challenge that I enjoy.

What lessons did you quickly learn about the way in which your students learn language skills?

I have learned how the first language of students influences the way communicative competence is achieved in the second or multiple languages and how this changes the needs of students. Also, I quickly realised that busy professionals, high school and university students learn better in fun energetic classes, allowing them to forget that they are engaged in what is actually a difficult task.

How did you adjust your teaching to accommodate this?

I try to turn exercises into games to keep students’ attention. Also, I make every attempt to give positive feedback and encouragement.

Which teaching areas generally proved most difficult for your students to learn? Did they explain to you why this was?

In Indonesia, grammar was the greatest challenge for students, while in Vietnam, pronunciation and listening are more difficult. In Colombia, students were a little challenged with vocabulary.

Students always actively express their challenges, and their feedback is the most useful resource for me as their teacher.

What do you think are the most common misconceptions about teaching overseas?

The most common misconception is that a teacher has to be fluent in the local language of the country in which he or she is teaching… Not true. The most effective method to teach foreign students to learn a second language for example, is in the same way that they learned their first language as a child, starting with the basics.

Why did you decide to teach abroad?

It’s simple. My objective is to help others achieve their goals, and in any country, I want to uphold high standards and experience different challenges. I don’t compromise my values because my values and objectives are aligned with those of the learners in most cases.

You’ve taught in three different countries now, which must have been a great experience. How do they compare with one another?

Each country is different. Indonesia’s most charming aspects are the malls, modern architecture and the hidden paradises that are just a short flight away.

Colombia has the amazing San Andrés Mountains surrounding a combination of traditional and modern buildings in Bogotá and San Andrés Island’s river of seven colours.

Vietnam has beautifully preserved traditional architecture in some districts of Ho Chi Minh City, while other districts consist of modern skyscrapers. It’s a lovely contrast. It has the famous backpacker area on Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City too.

In each of these countries the people are friendly and eager to learn about my culture, as I am to learn about theirs. Every experience has been a fun adventure.

 The 5 biggest lessons Paulita has learned:

1. Teach the individuals, not the class

“I have learned that students have individual needs. My ability to cater to those needs makes the difference between a successful class and one that requires great improvement.”

2. One teaching style, many learning styles

“Students face different challenges and my goal is to understand them and adjust my teaching style accordingly.”

3. Students in different countries have different needs

“The operations of education and teaching centres vary by country. Again, the differences in how the centres operate are largely due to the needs of students. This leaves me with the resources that I need to make the necessary adjustments to best help students.”

4. Use everything you’ve learned

“Teaching is about sharing ideas. My teaching style is an accumulation of every style that I have encountered. I greatly appreciate the willingness of my colleagues to provide feedback, help me with challenges, and brainstorm ideas with me. Other staff members are eager to help in the same manner with invaluable insight into the local culture. There are plenty of training and support opportunities to aid teachers abroad in improving our skills to best serve students.”

5. It takes time to adjust to your new environment

“It takes me about 90 days to adjust to a new country. By then, I have established a routine that makes for a great professional and personal lifestyle, and overall, I have stability”

This article has been adapted from an original article published here.


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