English Proficiency in Viet Nam: Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due

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Courtesy of VietnamNet Bridge

An article entitled What is the real English profiency level of Vietnamese? (yes, the word “proficiency” was misspelled) recently graced the Internet in Viet Nam with this description:  While an education organization has ranked Vietnam in the seventh position among 21 Asian countries in proficiency of English, some experts call the result ‘flashy’, saying it does not reflect the real situation of English learning and teaching in Vietnam.

Of course, no one survey can provide an accurate overall picture of the state of affairs of whatever it is measuring.  It is but a snapshot, an impression, a baseline for comparing an apple in Viet Nam, in this case, English proficiency, with the same apple in other countries. 

Yes, there are many students who are not performing well in English, based on high school final exam results.  Yes, many employers complain that most university graduates cannot communicate fluently in English.  Yes, English language instruction methodology in Viet Nam is archaic.  And, yes, there are too few opportunities for many students to practice what they learn in the classroom.  

According to the article, the EF ranking “shows the high readiness of Vietnamese youth for global integration,” an assertion I happen to agree with and that I bear witness to on a daily basis.  Interest in studying English is at peak levels and while much of the instruction is not of the highest quality in terms of teacher quality, methodology, curriculum, and materials, growing numbers of student find a way, including by taking advantage of a plethora of online resources.  

English as an Official Language?  

There’s even been talk about making English an official language in Viet Nam?  Such is the level of enthusiasm about English.  Why?

The reality is that not all Vietnamese need to be proficient in English.  While English is the most popular foreign language, young Vietnamese are studying a number of other languages, East Asian, e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean and European, e.g., French, German, Spanish. Many will require no foreign language proficiency once they enter the world of work.  

Therefore, any curriculum should be designed based on the current and future needs of the target student audience.  Why not offer English as an elective to students who are interested in learning it for whatever reason, including some who are linguistically gifted?  The current “shotgun” approach, while well-intended, is not likely to bear fruit in the long term. 

Let me conclude with some good news.  Based on my rather extensive in country and regional experience, Viet Nam compares very favorably to other Asian countries, including those with huge economic, educational, and historical advantages such as China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand.  What’s needed is a more balanced perspective.  Yes, there’s room for improvement but we should always give credit where credit’s due. 

Congratulations to Viet Nam for its progress to date!    

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  For the record, in response to the question in the second article about whether or not Viet Nam should make English an official language, I voted a resounding NO.  The majority vote to date was YES, but 311 votes, most probably cast by foreigners, does not a scientific survey make so take it with a grain of salt, dear reader.  🙂

eng official lang vn

 

 

The College of the Ozarks Patriotic Education Travel Program to Viet Nam: A Vietnam-Era Veteran Responds

PatEdSealI received a number of comments in response to my recent article entitled A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!, mostly from US veterans of the war in Viet Nam, or “Vietnam-era” veterans.  One who falls into the latter category decided to take it one step further and send a letter below to the College of the Ozarks.  The “lessons from the American War in Vietnam” to which he refers are contained in this 2012 article The Racket of War: Dying for Lies, a copy of which he included with his letter.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA


Sanford Kelson– Attorney at Law

December 14, 2018

Valerie Coleman, Public Relations, Director, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO 65726

Re: Patriotic Education Travel Program, Vietnam

Ms Coleman:

Enclosed is the story of my lessons from the American War in Vietnam.

Boy, did that war wake up in a naïve, idealistic, perfectly indoctrinated young man a curiosity to learn, to study, to read, to discuss, to critically think and to teach. I have never stopped learning. That war made me who I am to this day at 74 years of age. I consider myself a patriotic citizen but not a nationalist.

Don’t you agree that students who are exposed to multiple interpretations of history have a more quality educational experience than those who are exposed to only one interpretation? Multiple interpretations help provoke, oh my God, critical thinking. Do not forget, young students in the deep south of the 1700 and 1800s were taught only one interpretation of slavery, that it was just fine. Even God approved. “It says so in the Bible!” And, that immoral institution lasted for hundreds of years and its effects are still adversely affecting our nation.

Yes, the vets who go on the tour are heroes but in what cause, a just one or not, or a mixture of just and not just? If the lessons of the American War had been widely known, our leaders may not have able to mislead so many of us into supporting the current wars of choice.

Accordingly, I volunteer to go on the College of the Ozarks’ patriotic tours to Vietnam as a concerned veteran and a patriot. Or to present at the college. I believe in education and assisting young people with development of critical thinking skills, so I will gladly pay my own way for an opportunity to educate.

The contrast between my story and the other vets’ presentations may cause some of those young students to think critically and embark on their own investigations, as I did. If so, the lessons they learn will be based upon their own investigation and critical thinking. This I believe, should be the major goal of formal education. Does Hard Work U have sufficient confidence in the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of its student body to expose them to alternate interpretations? I certainly hope so.

Please pass this letter along to those at the college who are involved with the Patriotic Education Travel Program.

I look forward to the possibility of a positive reply to this letter.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Sanford Kelson

“I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It”

time logoI liked most of this recent Time magazine essay by Viet Thanh Nguyen (VTN).  (The title is the very definition of patriotism, by the way.)  I was, however, troubled by the parts in bold italics in the following statements.  It’s as if he’s trying to sugarcoat his message in an effort to make it more palatable for a mostly US audience.  In doing so, he dilutes its overall impact.  My comments follow each excerpt below.  

Many Americans consider the war to be a noble, if possibly flawed, example of American good intentions. And while there is some truth to that, it was also simply a continuation of French colonization, a war that was racist and imperialist at its roots and in its practices. As such, this war was just one manifestation of a centuries-long expansion of the American empire that began from its own colonial birth and ran through the frontier, the American West, Mexico, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and now the Middle East.

Oops!  He did it again.  An assertion followed by equivocation followed by contradictory statements.  Why not just leave out that part about there being “some truth” to the notion that the US War in Viet Nam was a noble example of American good intentions, when it was a yet another example of US hubris and galactic stupidity, a pointless and epic tragedy that cost the lives of nearly 4 million Vietnamese and 58,300 US Americans, not to mention war legacies that haunt Viet Nam and, to a much lesser extent, the US, to this day?  Call a spade a spade, don’t water down the remainder of the thought by telling US Americans what most want and need to hear in order to continue living in their sociopolitical fantasy world.  

I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them. My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated. Every country believes in its own best self and from these visions has built beautiful cultures, France included. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. If we love our countries, we owe it to them not just to flatter them but to tell the truth about them in all their beauty and their brutality, America included.

Is he referring to the Republic of Viet Nam (South Viet Nam), the country of his parents in what should have been a temporarily divided Viet Nam?  I’m tired of this kind of moral equivalency, as if each of these three countries is comparable in terms of “the blood of conquest and violence.”  Seriously?  

In what ways is Viet Nam “soiled” by this, aside from its gradual expansion southward from what was the original Viet Nam?  The overthrow of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s doesn’t count because, while technically an invasion, it was in reality a liberation for the survivors of the KR. 

In short, to mention France, the US, Viet Nam, and “the blood of conquest and violence” in the same paragraph is to grossly misrepresent and distort reality.  It’s as if VTN is pandering to his fellow US Americans, as if to say “this is what all three countries have in common,” when nothing could be further from the truth.  The US and France are a league of their own in this respect.  

Has Viet Nam every been a colonial or neocolonial empire?  On the contrary, it’s been the victim of several through its long and tumultuous history, including China, France, and the US, each of which it roundly defeated, much to its everlasting credit.  

VTN often speaks the truth, even sometimes uncomfortable truths, especially for a US American audience, but with the occasional equivocation and misstatement, for example, like the time he said in a nationally televised US interview that “the US won this conflict” – in reference to the US War in Viet Nam – because Viet Nam adopted a capitalist system, again telling his US American audience what it wants to hear and not the cold, unvarnished truth. 

I wonder if Time or any other mainstream US media outlet would publish what he writes, if he did?  Is it self-censorship or does VTN really believe everything that he says in print and interviews?  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!

PatEdSealThis is an essay I felt compelled to write about a US American study abroad program to Viet Nam that reinforces and indeed celebrates US nationalism.  It is a textbook example of how not to structure such a program. 

The country of Viet Nam is but a sideshow, a prop that enables students and veterans to waltz hand in hand down a very bloody memory lane and learn nothing, at least nothing that resembles historical truth. 

There was one last year and another one that started earlier this week.  As I mentioned in the postscript, C of O liked the 2017 Viet Nam program so much that it organized a fourth trip to Viet Nam this from 9-22 December 2018.   Since they’re running out of veterans who are alive, yet alone able to make the long trip to Viet Nam, what’s next, Patriotic Education Travel Programs to Afghanistan and Iraq? 

Here’s an excerpt that may whet your appetite to read the article in its entirety.

Patriotic Education as Misnomer

A cursory reading of the program information and the “tour blog” reveals that it would be more accurate to call it the “Nationalistic Education Program.”  The distinction between patriotism and nationalism, while quite elementary and accessible in any dictionary, is lost on most US Americans, including those with advanced degrees and obviously the leaders of C of O. Patriotism is defined simply as “love for or devotion to one’s country”.  In contrast, nationalism is defined as loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

As with most US evangelical Christians, there are close ties to US nationalism. Why?  Because both are about a sense of group identification, exaltation, and superiority.  If you’re an evangelical Christian, you have found salvation and are “saved.”  The rest of us are doomed to eternal damnation.

On the political side of the coin, in the words of Herman Melville “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world,” i.e., are members of an exclusive club that is the “greatest nation on Earth.”  In fact, the logo for the C of O Patriotic Education Program features these words:  God, Sacrifice, Country, and Heritage, a rhetorical intertwining of religion and nationalism.

It’s clear that these programs are designed not to create global citizens, which is usually the case with study abroad programs, but to solidify preexisting nationalistic values and attitudes.  Think of it this type of study abroad as the mixing of US nationalism with US-style evangelical Christianity, the perfect international education marriage made in hell. 

Here’s what one US veteran of the US War in Viet Nam had to say about the article:  

DS
Yesterday at 5:13 AM · 

Such a sad commentary, a study abroad program which has been designed to indoctrinate students with lies, with veteran mentor’s denials of their murderous hand in a war that should never have been.

It so reminds me of Zionists designed tours for Jewish Students to visit Israel devoid of the cruelty of its Apartheid Laws, it Check Points, it Genocidal attacks on Gaza, its becoming the monster it’s founders escaped from.

The enemy in the American War in Viet Nam was the American Invading Military.

To deny this truth to these students from the College of the Ozarks should be a crime.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Fewer US Student Visas Issued in Viet Nam in FY18

travel state gov

In the 2018 fiscal year, ending on 30 September 2018, US student (F-1) visas issued to Vietnamese students declined by 971, or 5.7%, over the previous year.  Below are the monthly stats starting in October 2017.  

October 2017:  275

November 2017:  364

December 2017:  1299

January 2018:  1165

February 2018:  207

March 2018:  207

April 2018:  186

May 2018: 1110

June 2018: 3147

July 2018: 4942 (+656)

August 2018: 2754

September 2018:  405

16,061  (17,032)

– 971 (-5.7%)

This is likely reflected in the modest decrease of Vietnamese students from December 2017 to August 2018 and related to the shift to Canada that I discussed in this April 2018 University World News article.  

All things considered and compared to most of the other top 10 sending countries, Viet Nam is doing quite well in terms of interest in study in the USA and enrollment.  (As of August 2018, there were 29,788 Vietnamese students at all levels in the US, most in higher education.  Viet Nam ranks 5th among all sending countries.)  This is in stark contrast to the rhetorical cheap shot that a colleague from a well-known company lobbed at a recent international conference in a lame attempt to pander to a largely Canadian audience:  “Our neighbors to the south are dying.”  Hardly, in a word.

Source:  Monthly Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Statistics

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Latest IIE Open Doors Data Reveal Shift in Vietnamese Major Preferences in the US

open-doors-report-on-international-educational-exchange-46Below is a list of majors – in descending order – that Vietnamese students chose in the 2017/18 academic year.  Interestingly, there was a decrease in the percentage studying business/management, down from 30.9% the previous year.  This reflects growing interest in non-business majors and perhaps, quite possibly, the dawning realization that one doesn’t need to study business to do business.  

In addition, there were more students majoring in math/computer science (+2.1%), engineering (+1%), and the physical/life sciences (+1.3%), and fewer (-.3%) enrolled in intensive English programs. 

Business/Management:  27%

Other Fields of Study:  15.9%

Math/Computer Science:    13.1%

Engineering:    11%

Physical/Life Sciences:    8.8%

Intensive English:    5.1%

Social Sciences:    5%

Health Professions:    4.6%

Fine/Applied Arts:    3.4%

Undeclared  3.3%

Humanities:    1.7%

Education:    1%

Shalom (שלום), MAA