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November 18th 2009
Published: January 23rd 2010
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Mark's Advanced English ClassMark's Advanced English ClassMark's Advanced English Class

The students have been studying 5 nights per week and in some cases 5 mornings per week to fast track their progress. A total of 10 classes per week!

Mark and Mary

Mary and Mark Roberts have recently completed a 9-month stint volunteering for Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An.

Lifestart Foundation and all of the students are extremely grateful for the time, encouragement and assistance given by all of our ESL volunteers.

Among a wide range of duties, one of their main jobs was teaching English. While this task proved to be both challenging and rewarding, it could also be frustrating at times. Both Mary and Mark were extremely grateful that they had decided to do a 4-week intensive Cambridge University CELTA course late last year, in preparation for their work in Hoi An. It is important to remember that even though you can speak a language this doesn't necessarily mean that you can teach that language competantly. ESL teacher training is vital. Before their retirements at the end of 2007, Mary had been a very experienced teacher and Mark, originally a pharmacist, had gone back to study following the first of many Viet Nam trips in 1992, eventually teaching in a university politics department. Despite their earlier careers, they found ESL teaching to be quite different.

The teaching of language is extremely demanding. When they
Mary and LieuMary and LieuMary and Lieu

Lieu was one of Mary's keenest students.
started, in March 2009, the hot weather in Hoi An was just beginning. This continued for some time, with several extended periods where the daily temperatures ranged between 36-40 degrees, with little respite during the night. After just a few hours teaching in this weather, without air-conditioning, they were exhausted. They realized from the start that it was vitally important to manage their workload carefully to ensure that they were able to keep fronting up and working effectively every day. This was done successfully and they gradually adapted to the heat. Of course, later in the year, the heat was replaced by typhoons and flooding, but they learned to cope with these extremes, just as the locals do.

The upside of all this was the wonderful enthusiasm of the students that want to learn English. Mary was teaching some of Lifestart Foundation's Jobstart recipients, aged from 18-24, from 8 until 11 am, Monday to Friday. They were in 3 pairs, and each class went for an hour. They were divided because the three pairs were at different stages of English acquisition. Much activity was directed at improving their speaking and listening skills, i.e. helping them to better communicate. They
Lifestart Foundation Staff ESL class.Lifestart Foundation Staff ESL class.Lifestart Foundation Staff ESL class.

Mary teaching Sinh, Van, Ly, Huong and Phuong at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop.
may have learnt some English at school, from a Vietnamese teacher, but their competency will be better in reading and writing, easily testable skills within the somewhat rigid Vietnamese education system. When these students have a native speaker helping them with English, there are many benefits. Even after allowing for the vagaries of an Australian accent, there are many opportunities to help the students learn pronunciation. All of them have shown great improvement under Mary’s tutelage.

Mary also taught several disabled ladies who make the products for sale in the Lifestart Foundation Workshop. Click here to read more about the Lifestart Foundation Workshop..... The ladies are divided into two groups of four and each group works three afternoons a week. Mary taught one group on Monday and Tuesday, and the other one on Thursday and Friday, for an hour from noon. This was a much greater challenge. Because of their disabilities, most of the ladies have only received basic schooling. If one has been deprived of an education in one’s own language, the acquisition of a second language becomes extremely problematic. Nevertheless, Mary has worked very hard with these lovely ladies and they have certainly picked up some skills.

Mark was teaching young adults two nights a week. He taught two one and a half hour classes each night, with 5-8 students in each class. These students are taught English by Miss Huong, a delightful young local teacher, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Mark took the classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Miss Huong also came along to a number of both Mary’s and Mark’s classes to improve her language and help her teaching skills. Three of Mark’s best students left the class during the year because Lifestart had nominated them for traineeships at Streets International restaurant. Click here to read the blog about Vinh Son and Dao....

This is a new, KOTO-like establishment in Hoi An that is training disadvantaged young people in all aspects of hospitality. There is more information about STREETS on their website and the restaurant is at 17 Le Loi. It is well worth a visit when you are in Hoi An. When Mark and Mary have been there for a meal, they have always been welcomed enthusiastically by Mark’s former students - Dao, Vinh and Son - and he was very gratified to be told that they were the three best English speakers in this initial cohort. While it was disappointing to lose some class members, it was also very satisfying because
Singing LessonsSinging LessonsSinging Lessons

Singing was a very important part of Mark's lessons. The students all loved learning English via music.
these classes are part of the process in advancing the skills, knowledge and employability of the students. Streets certainly recognized their potential.

One important thing that Mary and Mark learned while working with their students, and in other situations as well, was the need to be extremely alert when communicating. There were many occasions when they thought a discussion was clear, yet subsequent events indicated that was not the case. In other words, it is a matter of being aware - do they understand us, do we understand them, is the question/answer clear, what are they really saying, when they say no, do they mean yes? The combination of Vietnamese language subtleties and cultural resistance to saying “no, I don’t understand” offers many challenges.

A Letter From Leigh Dib

Leigh Dib came to Lifestart Foundation with a wealth of experience in ESL teaching spanning 40 years. She has a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics and a Diploma in ESL teaching from the Royal Society of Art. She has taught ESL throughout Europe and has worked at RMIT, Melbourne on migrant language programes for 20 years and has most recently been teaching at Trinity College,
Miss Leigh with Ghi & ThanhMiss Leigh with Ghi & ThanhMiss Leigh with Ghi & Thanh

Leigh is pictured teaching Ghi and Thanh in Melbourne.
Melbourne University for the past 18years.

Over the years, I have had a number of experiences working with Lifestart Foundation as an English language teacher . Every one has been unique, challenging and richly rewarding.

I began with night classes in Hoi An in a cheerful classroom attached to rooms where many of the students lived. They were a mixture of high school students and young people who worked in different traineeships during the day. All of them were from underprivileged backgrounds and were being supported by Lifestart Foundation.

Used to teaching affluent overseas students back home in Australia, I found these students so enthusiastic and appreciative that it almost took my breath away. They worked very hard, were most conscientious and had a wonderful sense of humour. Teaching was sheer pleasure in these circumstances. However, whereas overseas students in Australia often absorb as much language from the social environment as from English language classes, these students in Hoi An have only their night classes for input.. Teaching becomes much more challenging but much more rewarding. Progress is naturally slower but it happens nevertheless.

At the same time, I taught small groups of students
Miss Leigh & DungMiss Leigh & DungMiss Leigh & Dung

Enjoying a well earned break from class with one of her keenest students. Dung is the Lifestart Foundation Workshop Manager.
in the mornings who were able to attend for extra coffee shop tuition. We shared coffee and coke at these less formal sessions and there was more genuine communication as we “ chatted “about our lives and families.

Back in Australia, I continued working with two of my Hoi An students who had accepted Lifestart Foundation funded traineeships in Melbourne. Placed in an English language environment, their progress was remarkable and they surged ahead. It was a really exciting experience to see how quickly they learnt and to be part of their big adventure.

On my most recent trip to Viet Nam, I gave one to one tuition to staff in the wonderful new Lifestart Foundation Workshop . Some were former students now putting their language to use in a real life setting. The girls needed to learn culturally appropriate behaviour so that they could politely welcome visitors to the workshop, pass on information about Lifestart and the craft goods displayed, offer a refreshing glass of tea and then hover at a discreet distance. It took lots of practice and many role plays from which we all learned a great deal but finally the girls achieved a remarkable level of confidence of which they could be truly proud.

So teaching English for Lifestart Foundation is never dull, always challenging and immensely rewarding. One needs to be adaptable which means knowing when to put aside the text book and trust one’s instincts. Helping these young people achieve a better life is a heart warming experience and one that I can thoroughly recommend.

Roslyn's Vietnam Experience

My husband and I arrived in Hoi An mid-September 2009 to spend a few days R & R with some friends from Australia before commencing our volunteer commitment with Lifestart Foundation.

Then, tropical storm Ketsana hit our area….from the safety of our hotel we watched tiles and tin sheets being lifted from roofs, very strong winds and constant rain - we were cut off from the world - no TV, radio or internet.

We ventured out onto the streets of Hoi An to discover water covering approx 50%!o(MISSING)f the Old Town of Hoi An. We took a boat to the Lifestart Workshop where some staff members had been ‘living’ for the last couple of days moving and protecting all the stock and equipment.

Without hesitation it was “all in” for everyone. We scrubbed, we shovelled mud, we cleaned, we moved equipment - whatever had to be done to salvage the workshop and school was done.

I had come to teach English and introduce some new craft activities but happily found myself wading through knee deep water covered in mud and working side by side with an amazing group of people. This was not the only time that we packed up and unpacked the workshop during my 3 months in HoiAn.

Obviously, lessons were cancelled - pupils couldn’t get to school and damage control and the safety of their families was a priority.

We salvaged and dried out as much of the school’s resources we could and moved it all to higher ground. Classes were re-located to another ‘drier’ location and eventually a routine returned.

My teaching responsibilities commenced each morning with lessons for the Lifestart Workshop staff members - intermediate level students. I also attended classes three nights per week as an assistant to a Vietnamese national English teacher - Miss Huong - concentrating on pronunciation and general assistance where and when required with some of the same students that were in my morning classes.

My regular class at
Art ClassArt ClassArt Class

The students have some fun with paints... as well as working hard in their English of course!
the Lifestart school was a small group of students ranging in age from 12-21 and for various reasons they were unable to attend a public school. The kids commenced their school day at 7am and studied all subjects in Vietnamese and at 10.30 they started to learn English.

These children indicated that they would like to learn English while I was in Hoi An so together we started with the basics - alphabet, numbers, colors, greetings, etc. As I only had a short time with these kids I wanted to introduce them to the basics, have some fun and hopefully they would have some English skills by the time I left and the confidence to continue with their study.

There is never enough time though - I was ably supported by Miss Sang who interpreted for me and showed a great compassion for the children and an enthusiasm to teach and learn. I questioned myself: should I introduce technology to children who may never have the opportunity to use it - but they loved to use my laptop, video recorder and digital camera - and I’m so glad that they did because I now have some great photos
One to One LessonOne to One LessonOne to One Lesson

Ros teaching Thien on tables outside the Lifestart Foundation Workshop.
and memories.

My students celebrated Teacher’s Day while I was there - which meant a day off school for everyone and a lovely bunch of flowers for the teacher…….but my students were so keen that they wanted to have an English class on their day off…….so we decided to set up the laptop and watch a DVD (Finding Nemo was chosen)..…everyone was very excited……start time for their day off…..7.30am!!!! so armed with laptop, DVD, drinks and movie snacks…off I went to school.

During my volunteer experience with Lifestart Foundation I found myself ‘chatting’ away to everyone in English forgetting that they don’t understand much or anything that I was saying but with a combination of sign language and body language, we usually reached some understanding - mind you the roles reversed constantly.

I also undertook lessons with a few of the Lifestart Foundation’s “family” members making myself available to fit in with my students work commitments. Some of these students had taught themselves some English and others had learnt English from working on the streets, therefore these lessons were prepared for that individual and set at their particular level.

Overall, and including all the interruptions of tropical storms, floods, etc I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hoi An - mostly my student’s appreciation of my efforts to teach them and their willingness to learn, to enquire, and to challenge each other. My students were also selfless in assisting myself and my husband integrate into life in Hoi An.

I can recommend that anyone who is prepared to open themselves to a new experience; to leave behind their western lifestyle and ideas and succumb to “Vietnamese time” that you will have an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

It is not all work, work, work - for about A$3.00 you can hire a motor bike and take a day trip to Da Nang or Marble Mountain. The beach is close (by bicycle) and beautiful. The food is delicious and it is a shopper’s paradise. And after a week or so the man sitting on his motor bike on the corner doesn’t ask you if you want to go to the beach but bids you “good morning”.

My thanks and appreciation go to Mark and Mary Roberts, Miss Sang, Miss Houng and Sue Long for their support and friendship.

So Let us Know if you are

Learning English via GamesLearning English via GamesLearning English via Games

Ros found that games are a great way to get the kids excited about learning English.
Interested Too!

Hopefully, many more ESL teachers will follow in Leigh, Rosyln, Mary and Mark’s footsteps and they will have a similarly rewarding experience.

Volunteer ESL teacher placements are now being accepted for 2010.
We already have volunteer ESL teachers for March to June 2010. Expression of interest for dates after June 2010 would be welcome. We require a one month minimum placement.

All enquiries please contact Karen via this blog or email via karenleonard@mail.com

A sincere thank you to all ESL teachers who have volunteered over the years to help improve the lives and opportunities of these young people that we are working with.

Lots of Love from

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127 Phan Chu Trinh Street,

Hoi An, Vietnam.

If you are interested to read more about Mark and Mary's time in Hoi An, you can have a look at the blogs they used to keep a
Lifestarts English ClassroomLifestarts English ClassroomLifestarts English Classroom

A simple classroom with lots of posters to help with learning...
record of their experiences:

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


Truong and LyTruong and Ly
Truong and Ly

Both thoroughly enjoyed their ESL classes with Ros.
Goodbye to Ros and MichealGoodbye to Ros and Micheal
Goodbye to Ros and Micheal

Everyone got together to say goodbye to Ros and Micheal on their last day with a simple impromptu party at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop.
The food and drink went quicklyThe food and drink went quickly
The food and drink went quickly

And the cakes and fruit were enjoyed by all. The lessons learnt will last a lifetime.....

24th January 2010

what a great story! I'd love to be back in Hoi An and spend some more time with these wonderful people. One of my colleagues from La Trobe Uni is on his way there soon. I'm sure he's going to love it much as everyone who has ever volunteered there seems to have.

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