English Corner–a Chinese experience with Vietnamese Style

Today, KL and I went to the ESC, the English Speaking Club–“the premier venue for learners of English.” We came into a room on the second floor that must have had at least 300 people, most students from High School to University ages. The noise was overwhelming but some young people came to the door and invited us to their circle of about 9 people, all of whom were quite fluent in English and wanted to practice their grammar and pronunciation with a native speaker (me). I kept trying to remember to speak slowly and clearly, and seem to have succeeded. Here is a photo of me with three lovely girls we met today. From the left: Tinh, Hien, and Luon. Please pardon me if I misspell your names!Image

In China these clubs are called “English Corners”, probably because they are usually held outdoors near, of all things, a street corner.  Here, in the spirit of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, they are called “Clubs” and are held out of the sun in an open air room with fans, and begin at 8 am and end around 11 am, before the heat of the day becomes overwhelming.  

Anything can be discussed, but I deliberately avoid discussing politics.  I rather like the Vietnamese Socialist System and there are enough things to discuss without getting into political issues.  I have lots of problems with the American government’s latest proclamations restricting freedoms, and really find that Vietnamese rules and laws give more freedom than one can find in America today.  

So today I was asked how I liked living here, how I like the food, what was my favorite dish or style of food, who was my favorite singer(s), what kinds of music I liked, and a question I really could not answer, “Tell us about the American Culture.”  It was just too vague and covered much too much ground to be answered in a 3 hour morning chat, and besides, my throat was getting sore from talking so much.  

I found it very interesting that of three high school students there, each planned to go to college after high school, despite the high cost and great difficulty of getting admitted.  The competition for the limited numbers of places for university freshmen is fierce, and if this were as violent a society as the USA’s, I am sure there would be many killings to grab a slot in college.  The admissions tests are usually two days long, and many parents wait all day for their child to emerge from the tests.  The pressures are immense and competition is fierce.  

There is a current of people moving from one group to another, so some of my kids were changing every few minutes.  Rather than being disruptive, this created opportunities for new subjects to be discussed, and kept the conversations fresh and lively.  I learned that high school students carry a tremendous load–14 subjects ranging from physics, chemistry, biology, accounting, economics, physical science, math, advanced math, calculus, English, Vietnamese, history, politics and some other subjects I can’t remember. In university, the number of courses is fewer but they are more “Major-Specific.” I learned some new words which I have already forgotten, met new friends who have been invited to our home for coffee, and had a lot of fun.

I gave up trying to hear anyone speaking when the band started playing the two songs–DIANA and I’D LOVE YOU TO WANT ME.  The club graciously provided me a 4 page brochure with, among other things, the words to these songs.  While I strongly advocate the use of songs to teach a language (somehow people remember words of a song better than just pedantic recitations, and I still remember some songs I learned when I was studying Hebrew 53 years ago.  “La kova shehli shalosh pinot, shalosh pinot la kova shel-li…”

Fun times in Ho Chi Minh City on a hot Sunday morning!  Thanks KL.


4 thoughts on “English Corner–a Chinese experience with Vietnamese Style

  1. Sounds like great fun and, if you don’t mind, let me make two suggestions based on my experience teaching English to Vietnamese
    1. They tend to drop their final consonants (which they also do in Vietnamese). In English the final consonant is critical to understand the word (think flap / flag / flat, etc)
    2. The “th” sound. (thought and taught come out sounding the same). Get them to stick their tongue out between their teeth when they sound th words (they tend to avoid doing that – and as a result they really butcher the word “third”)

    We hope to meet with a couple of English clubs when we are back in Hanoi in October.

    Ross Feldberg

  2. Sounds like a program that will succeed. You are very hard on America ,whose policies are sometimes troubling , but I think you have to remember that the entire World looks to America to fix every imaginable problem and them criticises them for not doing it better, or as they would have wanted, or what not. Life has become very complicated , and there is no easy solution or critique for anything any more. Is that good or bad?

    Love you both,

    Dorothy Shoichet

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