Vietnamese Teachers’ and Students’|
Beliefs About Learning
Elizabeth Noseworthy, M.A.
A sound curriculum requires clear outcomes and an understanding
of how to achieve them.
There are two major elements in the foundation of any
approach is reasonable and was accepted universally
educational curriculum: the learning outcomes of the
until recent decades, current teaching practices encour-
curriculum and the teaching and learning theories that
age self-discovery, problem-solving, and independent
guide the process of reaching those outcomes. Without
learning. Furthermore, in foreign language learning the
a reasoned understanding of and commitment to estab-
teaching emphasis has shifted from knowledge about
lished theories of teaching and learning, outcomes are
the language to an ability to communicate in the lan-
nothing more than a grocery list left sitting on a table.
guage. To facilitate students’ abilities to communicate is
Teachers need an unambiguous view of what students
very different from transplanting knowledge about the
are supposed to be able to do at the end of an educa-
language and requires a very different classroom prac-
tional program and a clear understanding of what tech-
tice. However, changing beliefs about language teach-
niques and practices will bring students to the achieve-
ing is a slow process and changing classroom practice
ment of these outcomes.
an even slower one. Hayes, involved in teacher training
As part of efforts to meet the demands for curricu-
in Malaysia and Thailand, notes that change will occur
lum development training and to involve teachers in cur-
only when teachers realize that innovations can provide
riculum development, World University Service of
benefit both to themselves and their learners (p. 261).
Canada (WUSC) has facilitated a number of curriculum
In order to develop curriculum and bring about inno-
development workshops for post-secondary English
teachers in Vietnam. Select groups of teachers from dif-
vation, it is essential to understand teachers’ beliefs
ferent institutions come together to exchange ideas on
about teaching and learning and to encourage class-
curriculum and to be guided through the process of
room practice based on sound language learning prin-
developing curriculum documents for their institutions.
As mentioned, a key component of a solid educa-
As Kennedy points out (p. 166):
tional curriculum is the set of teaching and learning
It is clear also that views held on theories of language
principles on which the curriculum is based. These
teaching and learning and views on the educational
principles include, for example, items such as ”Language
process and what happens or should happen in class-
is best learned when it is integrated: all the language
rooms between teacher and students are ultimately
processes are interrelated and interdependent” or
context-specific, and derived from the culture and the
“Language is learned holistically. Students best under-
stand language concepts in context rather than in isola-
society in which the learning takes place.
tion” (Foundation, p. 37). In order to write a curricu-
As a Westerner involved in teacher training and curricu-
lum, complete with a recommended methodological
lum development in Vietnam, it is crucial that I under-
approach, it is crucial that teachers discuss and come to
stand local teachers’ views and practices. For the pur-
some agreement on principles of teaching and learning.
pose of this study, I had two main research questions:
It is on these principles that classroom practices
(methodology) are based.
(1) What do post-secondary English teachers in Vietnam
In Vietnam and in Asia in general, the classroom is
believe about how best to help their students learn?
teacher-centered. The teacher is the font of all knowl-
(2) Do teachers relay good language learning strategies
edge and she must somehow transplant all this knowl-
edge into the brains of her students.
to their students?
— 22 —
drills, and on the importance of speaking English in
English class. The issue of correcting all mistakes in writ-
To investigate post-secondary teachers’ beliefs about
ten work was a more controversial one for them.
particular teaching practices, a survey of teachers was
Moreover, the teacher trainees and students did not
carried out. So that the survey could be done quickly at
reflect the views of the teachers on this issue, as the
professional development workshops, a questionnaire
trainees and students were far more likely to agree with
was designed to investigate only four teaching tech-
correction of all errors in written work. In addition,
niques: correction of written work, use of pronunciation
with regard to correction of spoken errors, the students
drills, correction of spoken errors, and use of L1 as the
were far more likely to favour this practice than were
medium of instruction. These four techniques were cho-
the teachers and teacher trainees. (See the three bar
sen because they reflect issues that had come up often
charts on page 25.)
at previous workshops in Vietnam. Furthermore, to
The majority of teachers (56%) disagreed with cor-
investigate whether teachers relayed their views clearly
recting every mistake in written work, yet a sizable num-
to students, the same survey was given to a group of
ber (34%) believed they should correct every mistake.
English majors at a rural university as well as to a group
The others remained neutral. The teacher trainees as
of English teacher trainees at a university in Hanoi.
well disagreed among themselves over this point.While
Four items were presented and respondents were
the majority (58%) believed that the teacher should cor-
asked to indicate their level of agreement on a five-point
rect every mistake, a large number of teacher trainees
Likert scale. The four items were as follows:
(36%) do not see the teacher as “corrector of all written
mistakes.” The students, on the other hand, were far
(1) When correcting written work, the teacher should
more inclined to believe that the teachers’ role is to cor-
correct every mistake.
rect every mistake in writing: 64% agreed with the first
(2) The best way to improve pronunciation (for univer-
sity students) is to do lots of pronunciation drills.
With regard to pronunciation drills, a large majority
of teachers (75%), teacher trainees (71%), and students
(3) When the student makes an error in speaking, the
(78%) agreed with this method.
teacher should correct that error immediately.
A majority of teachers and teacher trainees opposed
(4) The teacher should speak English in English class,
immediate correction of spoken errors, with 67% of
trainees and 71% of teachers disagreeing with this idea.
The students, however, held an opposite view, with 58%
in favour of immediate correction, only 20% in disagree-
ment, and a full 22% unsure.
The subjects for this study consisted of 64 post-sec-
Finally, an overwhelming majority of both teachers
ondary English teachers from seven different provinces
and teacher trainees agreed that English should be the
throughout the country (north, central, and south),
medium of instruction in English classes. 88% of teach-
125 fourth-year English teacher trainees from a universi-
ers agreed with this item and 91% of trainees agreed or
ty in Hanoi, and 50 fourth-year English students from a
strongly agreed with the statement,“The teacher should
speak English in English class, not Vietnamese.” This is
also the item on which the fewest number of people
In order to simplify the data presentation for this
article, results for “agree” and “strongly agree” have been
combined under the heading “agree.” Likewise,” dis-
This small study in no way represents the total stu-
agree” and “strongly disagree” have been combined and
dent or teacher population of Vietnam; the students
came from one rural university only and the teacher
trainees from one university in Hanoi. However, several
On three of the four issues teachers were largely of
points are salient and provide food for thought.
a single mind—on the principle of not correcting errors
There are serious implications to the belief, held
in speaking immediately, on the value of pronunciation
largely by the students and trainees but also somewhat
— 23 —
by the teachers, that the teacher should correct all mis-
reasons for the overuse of the mother tongue in the sec-
takes in students written work. The practice of correct-
ond language class. A few that come to mind are
ing all written mistakes is very likely counterproductive
teachers’ lack of confidence in their own ability, fear of
and, perhaps more importantly, it accounts for the lack
making mistakes and losing face in front of students, and
of writing practice students get. Firstly, teachers are hes-
expediency in explaining language points. All of these
itant to collect written work because of the laborious
concerns must be dealt with if classes are to be
task of “correcting” it and, secondly, students are stunted
communicative and provide an optimal setting for
in their ability to express themselves clearly in writing
because they are more concerned with the “correct-
ness” of the writing than with expressing the message.
Students write less and write less often because of this
emphasis on correctness. They have difficulty putting
Set Policies and Do Training on the Use of L2
thoughts on paper because they have been discouraged
in the Classroom
from the creative use of language for self-expression.
Most teachers agree that we do not correct all spoken
Curriculum documents need to state a precise poli-
errors. As with mistakes in speaking, errors in writing
cy on the use of English in the classroom. If English is
need to be seen as part of the development process.
to be the exclusive or almost exclusive language of
Correcting every mistake does not lead to fluency in
instruction, institutions need to provide English conver-
writing; it is more likely an obstacle to fluency for many
sation classes for teachers as well as teacher training on
how to avoid the use of L1 in giving explanations, par-
The disparity between teachers and students, as in
ticularly to beginner-level students. The teacher has to
items 1 and 3, calls for an addition to the goals and out-
develop a rapport with her students in which expecta-
comes of the educational program. (See the three pie
tions from both sides are realistic and the atmosphere is
charts on page 25.) Educational curriculum must
a supportive one. The classroom must offer a safe
include the goal of giving students strategies that will
environment where both teacher and student errors
enable them to be better learners. It seems that while
teachers may know good strategies, they do not always
relay these to their students. Educators in any field have
Do Not Stop Students in Mid-Speech
a responsibility to teach students how to learn. We must
discuss learning strategies with students and encourage
We have all had the frustrating experience of trying
them to be independent, lifelong learners. Giving stu-
our best to communicate in an L2 and having been
dents the tools for learning independently is a far greater
stopped in mid-speech to be told that our grammar or
gift than simply transferring knowledge from our brains
pronunciation was not quite correct. We do not like this
to theirs. Apart from the cumbersome process of trans-
and it inhibits communication. Encourage, do not dis-
ferring knowledge, this age-old view of the teacher as
courage, students from speaking.
the font of all knowledge does not prepare young peo-
An alternative to stopping a student in mid-speech is
ple to face the challenges of a rapidly evolving society. A
to make a mental or written note of the most glaring
student with a curious mind and who knows how to
errors and draw attention to them later, perhaps in the
learn will easily find out what to learn long after she
last ten minutes of class. The key is to be able to focus
completes her formal education. The goals of any edu-
on errors that students are ready to correct. As with
cational program must include the goal of creating life-
identification of written errors, this means knowing
where your students are on the acquisition continuum.
A final point for discussion is the use of English as
We will generally find that there is a bank of common
the medium of instruction. Although the vast majority of
mistakes made by our students. Little by little we height-
teachers believe in this, it is rumoured among observers
en student awareness and ability to monitor and take
and admitted by teachers themselves that many English
responsibility for correction of these errors.
lessons are given largely in Vietnamese. If this is the
case, then it requires some attention. There are obvious
— 24 —
64 TEACHERS’ levels of agreement or
disagreement with items 1-4 (p. 23).
125 TEACHER TRAINEES’ levels of agreement
or disagreement with items 1-4 (p. 23).
50 STUDENTS’ levels of agreement or
64 TEACHERS’ level of agreement or
disagreement with items 1-3 (p. 23).
disagreement with item 1 (p. 23).
125 TEACHER TRAINEES’ level of agreement
or disagreement with item 1 (p. 23).
50 STUDENTS’ level of agreement or
disagreement with item 1 (p. 23).
— 25 —
Do Not Correct Written Work, Indicate Errors
pronunciation drills is not new. Many educators now
That Are Ripe for Self-Correction
reject the practice of presenting forms and rules for pro-
nunciation outside the context of real communication
It is highly recommended that teachers encourage
(Jones and Evans). From my own experience as an L2
students to write journals, stories, love letters, or
learner and teacher, I have noted that pronunciation
anything that will activate and help develop their ability
drills have a limited effect on pronunciation in real con-
to communicate through writing. The primary empha-
texts. A student is more likely to improve pronunciation
sis should be on message, not form. Form can be
by having a heightened awareness of his pronunciation
problems, particularly if these problems interfere with
An insightful teacher knows her students and which
the intelligibility of his speaking, and by self-monitoring
errors to indicate for self-correction. A teacher with
Krashen’s monitor model is well
some experience in indicating, not correcting, errors
recognized. As teachers we have to encourage our stu-
can mark a student essay very quickly, circling just a few
dents to determine for themselves to what extent they
errors and giving minimum comments with a short note
are able to monitor for pronunciation without interfer-
of encouragement at the end. Self-correction is prefer-
ing with their communicative fluency. Moreover, if we
able to teacher correction as it “gives students an oppor-
do drill pronunciation, we still need many opportunities
tunity to consider and activate their linguistic compe-
for authentic oral communication in our classes so stu-
tence” (Makino, p. 340). The activity of self-correction
dents have time to try out and consolidate what they
becomes part of the acquisition process. Needless to
say, the technique of circling errors that are ripe for self-
correction must be explained to students so that they do
Talk to Students About Strategies and
not assume the indicated errors are their only errors.
If students are to be encouraged to write, they need
incentives: Marks must be given for writing during the
One final recommendation is that teachers must dis-
term and these marks must be taken into account for the
cuss strategies with their students. Overall, most teach-
final grade. One option is to give full marks to anyone
ers do not believe in correcting every mistake in writing
who hands in all the assignments and has “done her
or speaking, yet many students want every mistake cor-
best” regardless of “correctness.” For a teacher who is
rected. Talk to your students about this and other prac-
too busy to do any assessment of written work, be hon-
tices that you implement. Discuss good teaching and
est with your students—tell them you will not be mark-
learning strategies and explain your reasons for the tech-
ing their papers but they will receive marks for doing
niques you use. Several times, I have had teachers tell
the work. Writing is like swimming: If you swim every
me that although they believe certain strategies and
day, even without a coach, you may never make it to the
methods to be effective, they often use contrary tech-
Olympics, but you will become a better swimmer.
niques because weak students demand it. For example,
teachers who do not believe in using translation as a
Improve Pronunciation Through a Variety
method are forced to because of the demands of weak-
er students. My response to this is, “Beware of the
demands of weak students!” Weak students are weak
Like many Vietnamese teachers and teacher
precisely because they insist on using bad strategies and
trainees, I have my doubts about the value of pronunci-
prefer ineffective methodologies. Look at your strong
ation practice or drills in which students are asked to
students and use them as a role model for weaker stu-
simply repeat, repeat, repeat. The shift away from
dents. Talk to weaker students about how they need to
change their strategies.
Most teachers do not believe in correcting every mistake in writing
or speaking, yet many students want every mistake corrected.
Talk to your students about this and other practices that you implement.
— 26 —
Development and Innovation.” ELT Journal 41 (3), pp.
Post-secondary teachers in Vietnam are well on their
Makino, Taka-Yoshi. “Learner Self-Correction in EFL
way to making their classes more communicative.
Written Compositions.” ELT Journal 47 (4), pp. 337-341,
Teachers believe in the use of L1 in the classroom and
the need to allow students to speak freely, focusing on
meaning over correctness. These results indicate that
Richards, Jack. Curriculum Development in Language
teachers in Vietnam see the goal of language learning as
Teaching. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
communication in the language, not knowledge about
the language, and they aim for their students to become
confident and effective oral communicators. However,
Elizabeth Noseworthy (M.A., TESL, Carleton University)
on the issue of pronunciation improvement, teachers
has taught ESL/EFL in Canada, Mexico, and Vietnam. Her
still rely heavily on pronunciation drills, which are very
key interest is creating students who are autonomous
form-focused, non-communicative, and generally lifelong learners. She is currently Head Teacher with
non-contextual. There may be room here for teachers
World University Service of Canada,Vietnam.
to investigate other means and strategies for building
On the issue of correction of written work, teachers
and students are less clear on their preferences.
Teachers are more likely to disagree among themselves
on this issue. Students too are less likely to see eye-to-
eye with each other on this. There is a need for discus-
sion among teachers as well as discussion between
teachers and students. If language acquisition is viewed
is a service of the
as a developmental process and we include in our cur-
English Language Institute Vietnam
riculum the goal of creating lifelong learners, some writ-
and is sent on a complimentary basis to
ten errors are to be expected and accepted and self-cor-
teachers at universities, colleges, and
rection should be encouraged.
foreign language centers throughout
If teachers, who by their very position have proven
themselves to be good language learners, feel strongly
about the use of a particular strategy, they must discuss
For more information about ELI
it with their students. As teachers, our role is to teach
Vietnam’s teacher programs,
not only language but also learning strategies that will
please see page 56.
equip our students for lifelong, independent learning.
We are always willing to consider
submissions of articles, lesson plans,
and activities, as well as photographs
Dulay, H., M. Burt, and S. Krashen.
and book or Website reviews.
Oxford University Press, 1982.
Foundation for the Atlantic Canada English Language
For more information on becoming a
Arts Curriculum, Atlantic Provinces Education
contributor to Teacher’s Edition, please
Foundation, Halifax, Canada, n.d.
see the Writer’s Guidelines on page 3.
Hayes, David. “In-Service Teacher Development: Some
Basic Principles.” ELT Journal 49 (3), pp. 252-261, 1995.
Jones, Rodney H., and Stephen Evans.
Pronunciation Through Voice Quality.” ELT Journal 49
(3), pp. 244-251, 1995.
“Innovation for a Change: Teacher
— 27 —