Phung Thuy Linh (Linh Phung) has lived in America for 15 years, the last 10 of which she has spent at Chatham University supervising and teaching English to international students.
Mrs. Phung Thuy Linh.
Born in the northern province of Bac Giang, Linh moved to the northern city of Hai Duong at the age of 11 to live with her relatives to get better conditions for education.
“When I first arrived in Hai Duong, I took a short summer vacation before taking exams in Math and Literature for those interested in enrolling in a class for gifted students. And I was accepted into a class majoring in English, a subject which I never thought of.”
Linh found it difficult to learn a new language. “When I gradually got used to the grammar and the vocabulary, I set the goal to master English like other subjects. After taking part in some activities such as singing, acting, listening to Sherlock Holmes stories, I gradually loved English. I wanted to be the best student in my class at the time, so I put in a lot of effort and eventually succeeded.”
Later, when she was 18 years old, she had an outstanding performance in a national competition. As a result, she was exceptionally accepted into the Vietnam National University's University of Foreign Languages in Hanoi. She then became a lecturer for the same university.
Penn State University (USA) awarded Linh a scholarship to pursue a master's degree in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). “After finishing my studies, I returned to Vietnam and continued to work for the Vietnam National University. Although I had no intention to settle in America, it was love which compelled me to rethink. After spending a year in Vietnam, I decided to move back to America to get married,” she said.
She worked as a part-time lecturer for two universities in the US before being offered an opportunity to become a full-time English lecturer at the Chatham University.
“Every lesson has to be unique”
As an English instructor in a country where English is the native language, having experience of learning a language gave her a significant edge.
“I can tell my students anecdotes about learning English. As I have a good grasp of both English and Vietnamese languages and culture, I can clarify any misunderstandings to assist my students,” Linh said.
According to Linh, teaching English is a specialized job (like engineering, accounting…), so it requires the acquisition of knowledge through training programs.
“Teachers must continually extend their knowledge to improve their teaching methods and meet the needs of schools and students’ requirements. Every lesson has to be unique,” she said.
Because of different circumstances, there are many distinctive features of teaching–learning between the US and Vietnam.
There are about 5 million students at public schools who have different language and culture origin. They have many opportunities to study English but less opportunities to develop their first language. “That’s a weakness of the American education,” Linh commented.
Statistics related to achievements of students learning English in public schools reveal that they are still separated from those who are not English learners (due to many reasons besides language barriers). This is a serious problem that American educational system is dealing with, she said.
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Linh pointed out that many Vietnamese underestimate the importance of learning English for practical uses.
“Vietnamese students withstand intense pressure because they have to compete for a position at their preferred schools. In America, students must take annual tests to demonstrate their progress, but the pressure is likely to be lower because they do not have to compete with others,” Linh said.
However, with a wide range of English materials, online educational videos, and social media activities, there are many opportunities for Vietnamese youngsters to learn English. The problem is the amount of time these students have, and which method will be the most efficient. For example, only focusing on homework at school may result in inefficient communication, she analyzed.
Experience teaching online
Lecturer Thuy Linh (first from the right) and international students at TedxCMU.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Linh had to work online for three semesters, and she has recently resumed face-to-face teaching at the university.
In late 2019, she established Eduling International Academy, which provided online writing and IELTS classes for Vietnamese students, Vietnamese-origin students in the US and Australian students.
Linh believes that the principles of teaching and the quality of instruction are the same and learning activities that students have when they have face-to-face classes can also be held in online lessons.
“Although I have not seen any research about the differences in the way students engage in two separate studying methods, there are many ways to encourage students to focus on their lessons. The biggest difference is that virtual classes prevent every participant from connecting with each other. Teachers should find a solution for students to interact with one another," she said.
When it comes to teaching English online, Linh suggested that we should follow the major principles of teaching foreign languages.
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