I have been taking Vietnamese lessons (from VES) for a few months on Skype (as well as on my own and using an app on my phone). In this post I’d like to share a brief moment from an online class that has stuck with me for a while. I think some background information on previous classes will be helpful.
One of the first things we learned was to ask and answer questions like “How old are you?” (an important question culturally in Vietnamese) and “What is your nationality?” In order to respond to the latter question and discuss nationalities (and adjectives based on nationalities) we learned the names of countries including Hàn Quốc (Korea), Nhật Bản (Japan), Ý (Italy), Mỹ (The US) just to name a few. I guess I learned a few more on the app. If I encounter someone I suspect to be Norwegian I will be very ready to use Vietnamese to ask if they are in fact from Na Uy.
I was (and am) very much a beginner but my classmate (also a true beginner) was impressed with my knowledge in terms of the names of different dishes and culinary terminology. I will not be making any comments on this phenomena at this time. He soon learned that my knowledge was mostly just limited to the names of different types of food.
In class we were learning the different types of noodles (believe me, this is a very important topic in Vietnam and thus Vietnamese). We learned bun, mi, phở, hủ tiếu, and miến. It was interesting to see specific dishes on the screen there on Skype and try to determine which noodle was used. Rather than explain various dishes and noodles here I link to an article that explains (and shows) different types of noodles.
For specific dishes, here is a piece that details some common noodle dishes. In case you are curious, my favorites are mì quảng , bún chả, (vegetarian) bún Huế, and the classic phở.
Although it’s not in the piece I also love me some mì xào (stir-fried noodles) Here, mì refers to Chinese-influenced egg or wheat noodles, which are usually thin and yellow. They are sort of reminiscent of spaghetti. Here is an example of mì xào.
Likes & Favorites
In class we learned how to say our favorite things as well as specific things we like or don’t like. We had lots of practice stating things we like whether it be articles of clothing, activities, colors, or types of food. I feel pretty comfortable responding to questions about my likes, dislikes, and favorites.
As we practiced talking about what sort of food we liked the teacher asked, “Anh thích mì Ý?” The first part was “Do you, older brother, like…?” but I puzzled on the last part, the mì Ý part. I asked the teacher to repeat and she said it again a bit more slowly. I still didn’t get it. She then (in Vietnamese) said something like “I think you know Ý, you know like the nationality? We learned nationalities for Japan and France and Ý. Do you know Ý?“ It turns out I did know Ý. It’s right up there in the nationality section of this post. Aha! Italian Noodles. I know it well. I like it.
What I liked (just about as much as I like spaghetti) was the excited moment of piecing this together with a bit of help. Later, I found myself thinking that if everything in the course or lesson was perfectly graded and every term was pre-taught I would have been robbed of this fun moment.
I have not taught beginners in quite some time but I also found myself hoping that my own lessons as a teacher spark this sort of extremely minor and low-stakes exhilaration in students. It was a great reminder of how fun learning can be.
Thank you very much/cảm ơn rất nhiều for reading! Any thoughts, questions, or similar stories welcome!
Yes, I think this “letting students figure out what they (already) know is an important part of teaching (and learning).
I think remembering the excitement of learning, of “figuring out,” is an important reason why a language teacher should always also be a language learner – not to be able to speak to students in their own language (though this is nice), but to be reminded “the other side of the teacher’s desk.” It’s too easy for experienced teachers to forget what it’s like to be a learner. This is why I’m tough on teachers in their periodic retraining programs. (They don’t like this.) It’s why we should keep exploring additional languages. It’s not always about mastery of course contents, sometimes it’s just the experience.
Thank you for the comment, Rob!
I think you make some very important points here. You wrote, about the importance of seeing things from “the other side of the teacher’s desk” and I think this is incredibly important. It’s been very interesting for me as a learner to study a language online (especially with so many classes happening online in the world). I actually sometimes wish it were a larger class so I could get some perspectives on that.
You also wrote, “It’s too easy for experienced teachers to forget what it’s like to be a learner. This is why I’m tough on teachers in their periodic retraining programs. (They don’t like this.)” I am curious what this being tough looks like in practice (and what aspects they don’t like.) I imagine you are trying to help create and experience that will help course participants gain some experiences that might help them reflect on their role as teachers?
Yeah, by tough, I mean, they can’t just “sit and listen” in discussion sessions. They can’t make lordly pronouncements that essentially devalue the opinions of those “less senior.” They are especially uncomfortable with “why do you think so.” Yet these teachers are supposed to be fostering communicative competence in their classrooms (they’d rather lecture the readings and grammar lessons as presented in the book and teachers’ guides).
Thank you for the response, Rob! I can imagine exactly what you’ve described.
Really interesting reading about your experience Mike, and I second Rob’s comment about always being a language learner to keep that perspective – I’ve learnt so much about teaching from my own language learning experience.
If you’d like to use an app to supplement your classes, I would highly recommend Lingodeer – I used the beginner Vietnamese course on there for a while and think it’s great. I really felt like I was learning a lot as it’s so structured and there’s both grammar and vocabulary support. You have to pay for premium, but I think it’s well worth the cost, and this from somebody who rarely pays for websites!
Good luck with your learning, and looking forward to reading about other insights you’ve had.
Thank you for the comments, Sandy!
You know what? I was thinking about you a while back just before you left the comments. I was reading something related to SLA and curriculum development and the authors were quoting pretty anecdotal stuff about language learning from 1990 (in something published in the 2010s) and I was thinking “Gosh, Sandy’s (and others’) blog is much more interesting and just as insightful. It’s sort of interesting and disappointing that we don’t see more modern examples appearing.” In any case, I am grateful that you’ve shared your language learning experiences on your blog! You wrote, “I’ve learnt so much about teaching from my own language learning experience” and again I appreciate you sharing your insights.
In terms of studying Vietnamese I have been using Drops and I will check out Lingodeer as well. Thank you!
(Thank you also for the encouragement to share further insights!)
Thanks so much for the lovely comments 🙂 Definitely good for all of us to keep sharing these experiences, and maybe there’s a future research direction in there for somebody…