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[Xmca-l] Re: Request for advice

Thank you, Carol. I am presently trying to compile these into a form that I can give to our Dean who will pass it along to the committee that decides whether it should be disseminated or not.


Helena Worthen
Vietnam blog: helenaworthen.wordpress.com

On Jan 5, 2016, at 2:09 PM, Carol Macdonald wrote:

> 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.
> Carol
> 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.*