Teaching English in Vietnam exposes you to many languages and customs. Not only will you be exposed to Vietnamese, but also British English. We teach British English at Wellspring, where I work, and work with English speakers from the U.K., Ireland, and Australia. When I came to Vietnam, I thought the only language barrier I would encounter would be when speaking to local people. It turns out language barriers can be encountered between British and U.S. English speakers.
Most of the time, we have a lot of fun debating the difference of words used and which we each believe correct: eraser = rubber, sweater = jumper, backpack = rucksack, mom = mum, math vs. maths, color vs. colour, and so on. But sometimes, simply understanding each other can be a challenge; using different words plus understanding an accent different than your own can add many challenges.
I gave a Cambridge test last week to my 5th-grade class, including a listening test with a thick British accent. I listened to the recording before administering the test, and my lack of comprehension caused me to worry about my students. This is just one small example of the difficulties students face in Vietnam when learning English.
We can joke and debate about which form of English is “correct,” but we must remember how challenging learning a foreign language can be and adjust our lessons accordingly. We English speakers should also be cognizant of the way we speak and ensure that there is some continuity across teachers. When students reach a higher level, it becomes essential to expose them to different forms of spoken English and varying vocabulary, but when they are young and at a lower level, learning the language understandably and consistently will help them grasp the language.
When I return to America, I will now be putting the rubbish in the bin and taking tea with my mum in a fortnight. I’m picturing how the sidewalk looks now.