Jak’s story from Vietnam

Since completing the 140-hour Premier TEFL course with TEFL Org, I have been teaching in Vietnam on a voluntary basis with a social enterprise for 3 months. The online-based study gives you all the grammar and theory grounding you’ll need to be a TEFL teacher, allowing you to study at your own pace and around your own schedule. But it’s the 20-hour intensive weekend teaching course that is really worth it’s weight in gold. It’s full on and throws you into mock lessons and standing up in front of what feels like 20 other judgmental adults – far more terrifying than a real class of English students!

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I have been teaching English for 3 months since with a social enterprise in northern Vietnam in a mountain town called Sapa. The organisation offers treks and homestays in the region which is home to a variety of ethnic minorities such as the Hmong, Dao and Tay tribes. Sapa is an incredibly picturesque town that lies on a plateau of a mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as “the Tonkinese Alps”. Rumbling in from a night train from Hanoi, Sapa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. Like Britain, it’s known for sometimes having all four seasons of weather in one day and the mountain induced fog can linger for days at a time.

The organisation was founded by a determined lady from the Hmong community and their profits are invested back into the ethnic minority communities, who are often subject to poverty and discrimination from the majority Vietnamese Kinh people. Such profits have helped set-up education for up to 50 students, as well as boarding facilities for them – whilst primary schools are present in the villages of the ethnic minority communities, students would face a 10-15 mile walk to go to secondary school. Pressures to bring money into the family and the presence of human trafficking from nearby China often means that children drop out of school and require the catch-up on education that is provided by the organisation to help boost their career prospects.

423dacbd-1445-4b9e-be1f-225051174584-844-0000008e17785ef9_tmpI teach English to a variety of audiences whom have differing goals and objectives from the classes. High-school students take classes at the weekend to boost their English, with a focus on grammar to give them the best possible chance of passing the difficult Vietnamese high-school exams. Classes with tour guides and cafe staff have a conversational focus however, geared towards arming them with the English language skills required to work in the tourism industry.

What has struck me most is the students enthusiasm to learn and gratitude towards the volunteer teachers. Each class, no matter how well it went, is ended with a chorus of “thank you so much teacher”. Impossible to imagine that in British schools! Eating lunch with the students has also given us the opportunity to brush up on our very shaky Vietnamese. Vietnamese is a tonal language and getting the wrong tone has its consequences! What seems like an inaudible difference in the pronunciation of tones for example can mean you are either asking for ‘chicken’ or ‘a train station’.

Sapa takes influences from its French colonial past and has a selection of wonderful bakeries to choose from. Vietnamese coffee is also a delight, served strong and with very sweet condensed milk. My favourite dish however is “phở gà”, a tasty and herby chicken and rice noodle broth.

My teaching experiences will last only for another few weeks but the experience will stay with me for a lifetime and one I would encourage others to seek if they can.

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