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[Xmca-l] Re: Request for advice

Hi Helena

I have been reading the thread with great interest, and feel that everybody
has made a valuable point. I would partly want to draw together some of the
threads. This is especially in the light of my experience of 33 years in
language ed in South Africa.

You have 20 years to achieve your goal there.  Is it possible to
conceptualise it in bite-sized chunks, says every five years review and
target setting? Otherwise I feel it's "you can't get there from here"
impossible task.

There are political elements to the task too. I have recently give an
address here in South Africa, in which I said, if you want to learn
English, learn your home language good and thoroughly. Unless you flesh out
your own linguistic competence in developing the academic aspects of
Vietnamese, where naturally there are many non-cognate words, then your
academic thoughts are going to land on barren ground and not take root.

This means formal and informal corpus planning in Vietnamese: the formal
part could be a dictionary unit (or two) to develop secondary and tertiary
level terminology. The informal part will come in the tutorials, where the
students, at least for a decade, should be allowed to code-switch, but
always start with a topic in Vietnamese.

The question arises - in what way do you want to be in the top 100
schools?  Are you emulating US schools? In which case do you want to become
more American?  I have in mind that you should become more *yourselves* -
what is it about Vietnamese culture that you value and can capitalise on? I
have great respect for Japanese education and their respectful attitude
towards both teachers and students, and towards the curriculum process.
(Having said this, I am aware of local parents here who want their children
to learn through the medium of English in Grade 1 - so they can go overseas
to university!!)

What is it about Vietnamese life that is worth preserving and developing?
Otherwise, in mimicking other cultures, where you only sense the surface
structure of these, you might land up with a very shallow alternative. Ivy
league classes deal with difficult concepts quickly and effectively, but
remember the learning and social histories of the students are very
specific. The fact that there are large libraries is no more important that
there are large libraries at the high schools and the students' home too.
There is a specific learning culture there too.

Even the local classroom pedagogies should be closely observed, and see
which students can be carried for a while, as they developing their
expressive competence. Even if you can't talk at the beginning, you may end
by talking very well. But the teaching methds alone, which are being urged
on you, are never going to solve the "problem": it's much, much deeper, and
more interesting than that!

As usual my contribution comes in words of one syllable - so perhaps I
should have replied off-list, as I promised.  Good luck.


On 3 January 2016 at 02:42, Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com> wrote:

> Hello,
> I am presently working at Ton Duc Thang University in Vietnam. English is
> all the rage.
> In an effort to become one of the "Top 100" universities in the world by
> 2037, TDTU has adopted a new curriculum, which will be taught in English.
> This plan results in many top-down practices that make me heartsick, such
> as trolling the internet to identify classes taught at Top 100 universities
> (according to a certain list) that post syllabi that can be replicated and
> textbooks that can be bought, reduced to power points and then used to
> teach a class, in English by professors whose English may be good for
> reading or writing but is not ready for conversation.
> The plan is coming from the top administration. The students are used to
> working hard and getting over what I see as impossible obstacles (class
> size 70 or more, no private office hours for consultation, no books --
> unless you can borrow the teacher's copy and run to the copy shop). It's
> the teachers, who take their work seriously, who are caught in the middle.
> So I have been asked to make a presentation to the faculty about teaching
> methods. First time around, they asked me to describe teaching at Top 100
> universities, meaning specifically US "top" places like Harvard, Cornell,
> Berkeley, Stanford. Since I actually have direct experience of these
> institutions for various reasons, I set to it and wrote about the working
> conditions for tenured faculty at elite institutions, the ups and downs of
> it.  This was not the presentation they wanted (low course load, small
> class size, big libraries, etc) so now I've been asked to be more concrete
> and talk about methods.
> I think I have to say something very clear about the problems of teaching
> in English when your English is not great.
> Let me emphasize that the teachers (lecturers, they are called; they
> mostly have MAs, not PhDs, are untenured and young -- in their 30s or early
> 40s at most) are serious about doing their jobs. yes, they are getting
> pressure from above and have been threatened with being replaced if they
> don't rise to the occasion. But they are also very serious about doing the
> right thing for their students. Getting an education in English is a door
> to the global world and they know it.
> I want to say that an English-only approach will oversimplify the concepts
> that they are hoping to transmit (share). Some concepts are incommensurate
> across languages and will require elaboration in the home language. This is
> probably true of whole registers of discipline-specific concepts, right?
> I am pretty sure that people on this list have experience with this. Can
> someone help me say this succinctly and clearly? I will probably only be
> able to devote a short paragraph to this in my actual presentation lest
> they hook me off the stage.
> Thanks in advance,
> Helena
> Helena Worthen
> helenaworthen@gmail.com
> Vietnam blog: helenaworthen.wordpress.com

Carol A  Macdonald PhD (Edin)
Developmental psycholinguist
Academic, Researcher, Writer and Editor
Honorary Research Fellow: Department of Linguistics, Unisa
alternative email address: tmacdoca@unisa.ac.za
*Behind every gifted woman there is often a remarkable cat.*