“I believe that a foreign language is a bridge between people and the world. Having travelled through many developed countries, I realize that contributing to society and helping fellow citizens is a practical job to help an individual contribute to the development of the nation,” said Nguyen Thi Thuong (Tina Yuan), who raised the idea of connecting volunteers from many countries to help Vietnamese students in Singapore to learn English for free.

Ralph Schopen talked about Tina’s free English classes and the class organizer Tina Yuan.

English teaching,overseas Vietnamese
Ralph Schopen

Did you imagine any of the difficulties of this job before teaching English as a volunteer? What challenges surprised you about the position?

I had never taught English before but always had a soft spot for teaching. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect teaching a language but was curious to give it a try. I was surprised how difficult it is to explain English pronunciation to someone with Asian heritage. The languages are so vastly different, and it is not enough that I know how to pronounce an English word. As a teacher one needs to develop techniques to help the students to pronounce it right. Come up with similar sounds, show students how to move their tongue, improvise and explain things with similar sounds in other words etc., it is never boring!

English teaching,overseas Vietnamese
Tina Yuan and the Vietnamese Ambassador to Singapore.

How did you find out about the free English class for Vietnamese people in Singapore offered by Tina Yuan (Nguyen Thi Thuong)?

I partially studied in Singapore for my executive MBA. During that time, I met Tina Yuan. Later on, after my studies, when I was back in the US, Tina contacted me and asked me if I was interested in helping teach English for Vietnamese.

Due to the global impact of the Covid-19 epidemic, the free English class had to be changed to online class, how has this affected your schedule?

Since I am living in the US these days, I am always supporting Tina Yuan’s free English classes remotely anyways. The Covid-19 pandemic has not had much of an impact on me in this regard. If anything, the time zone difference between the US East Coast and Singapore where most of the students reside, sometimes is more of a challenge.

Had you done any similar English teaching work before joining Tina Yuan's program?

No. Teaching English in Tina Yuan’s class was my first English language teaching experience, although I have taught various sports to students in different countries before.

 

Tina Yuan's free English class has volunteers from many countries around the world such as USA, Australia, UK, Singapore, Vietnam.... This helps students get acquainted with not only English but also the cultures of other countries. Can you tell us a memory about the volunteers in the classroom?

I was very impressed by the many different nationalities of the volunteers in Tina’s classes. I am bilingual and speak English and German. It was interesting to see that several of the other volunteers were bilingual too. Mostly, I was impressed by the variety of English accents amongst volunteers. There is no “one right English”: There’s British English, American English, Australian English, “Singlish” and so on and the cultures reflect that quite a bit too. Also, we all have different teaching styles. One time, when we had a reading competition with our students, it turned into quite a competition and arguments between us volunteers too because everyone of us wanted their team to win. In the end we all had a lot of fun and of course there are no winners or losers, everybody benefitted from the game.

What is your impression of Tina Yuan?

Tina is very selfless, has a big heart and her devotion to organizing these charity classes shows me that she truly wants to help people. I admire her energy and I can tell you that she has had a big impact on my own values by making me realize that helping others is one of the most satisfying things we can do.

In your country, are such charity classes appreciated and in your opinion, what are the criteria for a really effective charity class?

I do think volunteer charity classes are appreciated in my country. When I tell people that I’m volunteering to give free English lessons I typically get very appreciative feedback.

For me, the most important aspect for any class of any type, charity or not, is that both the student and teacher have sincere interest in learning. The student must be willing to learn, otherwise even the best teacher cannot help. Likewise, the teacher must be willing to accommodate the student’s particular situation, his/her struggles with learning the topic and adopt the teaching style as necessary.

When the Covid-19 pandemic passes, do you think the trend of online learning will continue and become an indispensable part of life? Will online English clubs have their own permanent position in learning English?

Yes, I do think so. Online English clubs offer the advantage to get together with students and volunteers from many different countries and cultures. They also allow different teaching styles anywhere from traditional practice of grammar exercises, to pronunciation classes to free conversation classes just to name a few.

What are your plans for when the Covid-19 pandemic passes?

I will continue to teach English online and hopefully have a chance to visit Singapore and Vietnam again to meet some of my students in person!

PV