My recent trip to Viet Nam has opened up many possibilities for coming up with ways to solve problems. And I also want to think about these issues critically as well, and whether the solutions I come up with would help or contribute to a larger problem. Let me share with you a few examples.
One day I went with my younger sister-in-law to her after school high school English group tutoring at her teacher’s house. This seemed to be a pretty common thing that high schoolers are required to participate in, assuming their parents have money. After I met the teacher, she invited my mother and younger sister to have coffee with her and her colleagues. Going to coffee is a common activity in Vietnam as a way to hang out and pass the time. When we met with the three English teachers, they were very interested in talking to us because it gave them a chance to practice their English and learn about American culture.
It soon became apparent from their remarks that many residents in this district have never seen a foreigner in their town. Of course, if you go to the coast you will see many tourists from around the world. They just hadn’t seen anyone come to CuMgar. School in Viet Nam is very competitive, even though getting a degree won’t allow you to avoid paying bribes if you want a decent paying job. English-speakers, of course, have better chances of getting jobs and going to better schools. This is especially because of the evolving tourist industry. The lack of native English speakers means that people living in CuMgar don’t have quite the same opportunity for mobility as people living in Sai Gon, Ha Noi, Da Nang, or Nha Trang.
Now I’m not advocating that we set up a tourist hot-spot in this small little town, but I’ve been thinking about how advancing technology can bridge the gap between educational opportunity and geographic restrictions. Indeed, internet platforms such as Youtube and Facebook have made languages more accessible for those that do not have a native speaker to hear. However, those platforms only get you so far when you’re learning a language. There’s more to simply listening to a native speaker. You have to speak the language yourself in order to improve. I see this need for people to want to learn English, and based on my past research I would argue that learning English will not erode your own language or culture unless you move to an English speaking country. My time in Nepal earlier this year revealed that learning English gives people a voice which might not otherwise be heard by the global community if they could not speak English. Unfortunately, that’s the way things are right now until the universal translator is invented. But until then, I’ll be playing with the idea of video-chat based English conversations between a small community in Dak Lak and a possible future program at Evergreen.