Conversing with English Learners in Vietnam via the Eduling Speak App
By Sean Martin
In order to complete my two hours of field work for this course, I applied to become a volunteer on the Eduling Speak app to help individuals in Vietnam learn English. During my time as a volunteer working with the Eduling Speak app, I had the privilege to converse with four people from Vietnam and help them improve their English-speaking abilities. The ages of the four individuals I had the pleasure of speaking with ranged from 7 to 28, and they were all at different English proficiency levels. Through conversing with my partners in Vietnam, I was able to find a greater appreciation for English Language learners. By working and speaking with them personally, I was able to see first-hand how their life experiences and stories can bring different dimensions and outlooks to a classroom or learning environment. Regardless of the individual’s age or English proficiency level, each conversation partner I talked to from Vietnam had a strong will to learn and had interesting life experiences that I believe would benefit classrooms across the country. All in all, the experience gave me the opportunity to utilize many of the strategies and methods taught in this course, including using verbal scaffolding and appropriate speech for different English proficiency levels. In addition, I now have a greater level of respect and admiration for English Language learners than I had before taking this course.
While being a volunteer on the Eduling Speak app, I spoke with four individuals in Vietnam. The first person I talked to on the app was a seven-year-old girl named Lana (pseudo name). Shortly after becoming a volunteer on the app, Lana’s mother contacted me to see if I could speak with her daughter and help her learn English. When working with Lana’s, I employed many of the beginner level activities and lessons on the Eduling Speak app—such as the picture differences activities and lower-level conversation topics. I felt these were the best activities to use when working with Lana due to her English proficiency level and because the picture differences activities had many visuals to keep her engaged in our conversation. Anytime I spoke with Lana, I made sure her mother was with her so she could be provided with language support in her native language in case she became confused or needed help. What stood out to me when working with Lana was just how important and effective positive reinforcement can be when working with English Language learners. Whenever I changed my tone of voice and spoke with enthusiasm, Lana showed a greater interest in our conversations. Also, whenever I told her “Great job” or “I am proud of you,” her performances on the activities would continue to improve. Additionally, when working with Lana, I made sure to slow down my rate of speech, enunciate clearly, and offer her ample wait time. Implementing these three strategies when working with Lana really helped her understand what we were talking about and allowed her to perform better on the activities we completed. Simply put, from my time working with Lana, I learned and observed just how important it is to provide English Language learners with primary language support, positive reinforcement, and sufficient wait time.
The second individual I worked with on the Eduling Speak app was Hana, a 16-year-old girl who had been studying English since she was six. Throughout my conversations with Hana, we often discussed her transition from lower-secondary to higher-secondary high school and how it has been more strenuous and difficult for her. Like I did when speaking to Lana, I often slowed down my rate of speech when talking to Hana and enunciated more clearly so she could listen and understand every word I was saying. Given her high English proficiency level, the only activities I completed with Hana on the Eduling Speak app were activities at the highest difficulty level—such as sentence unscrambles and academic word list crossword puzzles. When working with Hana on the activities and speaking to her about her high school experience, what caught my attention was how well she was able to pick up new words she had not heard before and how easily she could clarify and elaborate her thoughts when I asked her to provide me with more information. As described by the authors in Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners: The SIOP Model, “rather than accepting one- or two-word responses, ask students to add on, tell more, or explain their ideas more fully, giving them the chance to advance their language skills” (Echevarría, Vogt, & Short, 2017). By holding Hana to high standards and telling her that I expected more from her, I was able to get her to further her points and demonstrate her high English proficiency level. While working with Hana, I learned just how important it is to hold English Language learners to high standards. Therefore, by telling Hana that I expected more than one- or two-word responses from her, I was able to unlock the chains that were holding her back from demonstrating her English skills. Briefly, working with Hana taught me just how important it is to have high standards and expectations for English Language learners. When English Language learners are held to the same high standards and expectations of their non-ELL peers, they will perform better in the classroom.
Unlike the first two students I spoke with on the app, the final two speaking partners were not adolescents or teenagers who were learning English at home or in school, but parents who had already mastered the English Language. An (pseudo name), the third person I spoke to, is a 25-year-old woman who uses the app to help teach her son English. In the course of talking to An, she described to me what it is like to be a mother and how she thinks getting a quality education is the pathway to success later on in life. Her son has been learning English in school for roughly two years, but he is not progressing at the rate she expects of him. For this reason, she started using the Eduling Speak app to help her son acquire English at a faster rate. She told me during one of our conversations that ever since she started working with her son at home using the app, he has been doing much better in his English class at school. Seeing her son improve at a steady rate has made An very proud because she thinks his academic success and future success will stem from his ability to speak English. An furthered our conversation by explaining to me that people who speak English in Vietnam often get accepted into high-quality universities and find it much easier to secure employment after they graduate from college. To many individuals in Vietnam, learning English is the pathway to securing a better job and creating a better future. This was undoubtedly the key lesson I learned from my conversations with An. However, she was not the only person I talked to on the app who told me how important it is for Vietnamese children to learn English.
The last person I spoke with on the Eduling Speak app was a 28-year-old primary school teacher named Huong (pseudo name). Like An, she stressed how important it is for children in Vietnam to learn English since the world is becoming more interconnected and Western. In Huong’s eyes, children in Vietnam need to learn English because it is the language of international communication. If the youth in Vietnam do not become proficient in English, she is afraid they will fall behind and find it difficult to communicate with others or find jobs abroad. Being an English teacher in a primary school in Hanoi, Huong told me she is very happy teaching English to her students since she feels it will help them immensely later on in life. Though, at the moment, she is finding it very difficult to keep her students engaged in the classroom when teaching her lessons. While talking to me on the app, she informed me that she started using it to assess if it would be a useful resource to include in her classroom. When I last spoke to her, she said that she started implementing the app in her classroom, and that her students take turns using iPads to complete solo activities on the app. What I found interesting when speaking to both An and Huong was how much they valued learning English. Being a native English speaker living in America, I can never fully relate to their life experiences and realize how important it is for individuals in Vietnam—or for individuals in other countries for that matter—to learn English.
Growing up in America, we do not realize how privileged we are to acquire English at a young age. As Huong and I were discussing in our conversation, English is the language of international communication. In almost every country on Earth whose primary language is not English, students in schools are taught English as a second language so they can communicate with others on the global scale. For individuals growing up in a country whose primary language is English, they will never fully realize how important it is for people living in a non-English speaking country to learn English. Given the fact that learning English can impact their future success, the act of acquiring the English language can be a very stressful challenge for English Language learners.
In summary, speaking to An and Huong on the Eduling Speak App truly changed my entire outlook and perspective on why English Language learners have such a willingness to learn English. For many English Language learners, learning English is not simply about acquiring a second language as a hobby or because their school/university requires them to learn a second language. Rather, English Language learners have to learn English because it is a necessity to their success not just in school, but later on in life. As someone who grew up as a native English speaker, I can never truly understand what that feeling of learning a language out of necessity is like. Even so, as a teacher, I can show empathy toward my English Language learning students and try to supply them with all the supports they need to acquire the language.
In conclusion, being a volunteer on the Eduling Speak app gave me the opportunity to talk with individuals in Vietnam, which then provided me the chance to utilize many of the strategies and methods taught in this course focusing on verbal scaffolding and speech appropriate for individuals’ English proficiency levels. After spending roughly two months as a volunteer on the Eduling Speak app, I have gained a newfound level of respect and admiration for English Language learners than I had before taking this course. As a result of spending time speaking with Lana and Hana, I have further learned and observed just how important it is for native English speakers to slow down their rate of speech, enunciate clearly, and offer ample wait time when speaking with English Language learners. From my time working with them, I have also seen first-hand how effective offering positive reinforcement can be for English Language learners and how important it is to set high—but realistic—expectations for English Language learners while holding them to high standards. In addition, after talking to An and Huong, my whole outlook and perspective on working with English Language learners has changed. Now that I realize learning English is often a necessity for English Language learners, I will always go above and beyond to provide English Language learners in my classroom with the best education possible.
Overall, I had a wonderful experience using the Eduling Speak app and conversing with individuals in Vietnam. This whole experience has furthered my belief that English Language learners are assets to classrooms around the country due to their strong will to learn English and because of their interesting life experiences that allow their non-ELL peers to view life through eyes that are different from their own. I would like to continue being a volunteer for Eduling Speak.
Echevarría, J., Vogt, M. E., & Short, D. J. (2017). Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model (Fifth). Pearson.
Bio: Sean Martin is a graduate student at Point Park University. After graduating from high school, he decided to continue his academic journey by studying Intelligence and National Security at Point Park University. However, after the first semester, he switched his major to Global Cultural Studies. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Global Cultural Studies—while also minoring in both History and Intelligence and National Security—he made the decision to stay in school and obtain a master’s degree in Secondary Education concentrated in Social Studies. As of this moment, he is in his second semester of graduate school, and he feels he made an excellent choice to continue his academic career and pursue a role in teaching.